31 January 2010
Class Entry (Entry 1)
Sexism in "The Yellow Wallpaper"
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman sent me into a world of seemingly endless strands of ideas. One of the most recurring thought was provoked by our class discussion of this short story. In class, we discussed how feelings of nervous depression seemed to be common enough, mostly in women, to make a new word for craziness that involved the root word hustera, meaning uterus. This new word was hysteria, and the wife in Gilman’s story seemed to suffer from this new disorder.
It is important to note that I do not think the wife suffers from any other thing than hysteria solely because of the history of the word. We discussed in class that women, because they were not expected or allowed to do much work, often became hysterical. Hysteria, therefore, should be defined as a frenzied mental state brought upon by sexism. In the story, her husband puts down the wife’s opinions and suggestions. How could his lowly wife ever prove her husband, the educated man that he is, wrong?
Keeping all of this in mind, my recurring thought was that the real root of the wife’s insanity was not idleness, but sexism. While the idleness in the wife’s life ultimately leads to her insanity, the source of the idleness is the husband’s sexism. If the husband would have listened to the wife when she said she wanted to leave, or even have company, the wife may have not gone insane. The wife even mentions several times in “The Yellow Wallpaper” that she is fine when her husband is around; the times the wife is alone or ignored are the times she starts seeing moving shadows.
The husband’s egotism and stubbornness clearly caused the wife’s psychological breakdown. Since the man’s ignorance caused the downfall of an innocent woman, could this work of literature be considered feminist? I think so.
From the very beginning, this type of nervousness that the wife is diagnosed with is something that, historically, primarily strikes females. The silly men in the wife’s life also cause the nervousness, and eventual craziness, the wife experiences. When the wife clearly says that the so-called treatment is not working, the husband becomes even more insistent that the treatment not only works, but works even better than ever. The husband could not pull his head out of his male chauvinist cloud long enough to see that his patient, his own wife, was suffering and needed more help than he was giving. He destroyed his wife to maintain his ego.
Gilman claims, in the reasons for writing her short story, that she really just wanted to stop the treatment of nervous depression with idleness. Although that may really have been her motivation for writing the story, I feel that another main reason for the story was to highlight the results of such extreme sexism. Because of the time period in which “The Yellow Wallpaper” was written, a time period in which sexism was viewed as common, Gilman might not have even been aware that she was writing to unveil sexism. The sexism, however, caused the reason for writing and, therefore, becomes a reason of its own.