Theme for The Yellow Wallpaper Term Paper

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While analyzing the short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, I

had trouble coming up with a theme. There were several ideas that came to mind, but they were

hard to generalize. Finally, I decided that a theme for The Yellow Wallpaper could be: Although

one allows oneself to be controlled by others seemingly for one's own well-being, the time comes

when one feels suppressed, empty, and a need to escape arises. I feel this theme is well-illustrated

in this short story.

The woman's husband, John, who is a physician, really cares for his wife, yet he is too

authoritative. His wife, though she may disagree, is submissive and does what he asks. "John

says I mustn't lose my strength, and has me take cod liver oil and lots of tonics and things, to say

nothing of ale and wine and rare meat" (111). She follows his every instruction.

Along with controlling his wife's actions, John manipulates her thoughts. "I sometimes

fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus - but John says

the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel

bad" (17). She believes that he knows what is best for her and has convinced herself that he is

right.

He also has a way of making her feel guilty. "He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets

me stir without special direction...he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to

value it more. He said we came here solely on my account..." (29-31). John tries to make it seem

like she should be getting better just because she is under his care. I believe he had good

intentions but did not look deep enough to see that the sickness was within her mind, not her

body.

John's dominion over the woman increases until he controls everything she does, even the

one thing he does not know she is doing: writing. "There comes John, and I must put this away, -

he hates to have me write a word" (39). She is not allowed to work: "So I...am absolutely

forbidden to 'work' until I am well again" (12). She is virtually imprisoned in her bedroom and

has no choice in the decor of the room: "I don't like our room a bit. I wanted...but John wouldn't

hear of it" (27). This woman cannot even have visitors: "It is so discouraging not to have any

advice and companionship about my work...but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my

pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now" (64).

Every now and then, a hint of the woman's rebelliousness comes out. She has different

thoughts than her husband and her physician brother. "Personally, I disagree with their ideas.

Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good"

(13-14). However, she suppresses them one more time to be the submissive and loving wife:

"But what is one to do?" (15).

Once her anger was even brought out before John, but he guided her mind in order to

change it. "I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I'm sure I never used to be so

sensitive...But John says if I feel so, I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control

myself - before him, at least" (25-26).

Finally, in the end, the woman discovers liberty. After tearing all the yellow wallpaper

from the walls in the room, she feels free. Now that she has gained her independence, she does

not desire to return to her controlled, suppressive life. "'I've got out at last,' said I, 'in spite of

you and Jane? And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!'" (266).

Although one allows oneself to be controlled by others seemingly for one's own

well-being, the time comes when one feels suppressed, empty, and a need to escape arises. This

was definitely true in The Yellow Wallpaper. The woman, after leading a restrained, superficial

life, finds a need to escape from her husband's control and break through the barrier. In this case,

it may have been a barrier to insanity, but nevertheless, it was the barrier to freedom.

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