“He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction. ” He will not allow her to take a downstairs room with “.. pretty old fashioned chintz hanging. ” He has forbidden her to work or enjoy the company of stimulating friends even though she feels “.. that congenial work, with excitement would do me good”(p129). Her disagreement with her husband’s rest cure is apparent. The narrator describes the old nursery as a “big airy room”. However, the description of the room conjures the image of a nineteenth century lunatic asylum.
“for the windows are barred” and there “are rings and things in the walls”. (P130) Later in the text we learn that there are scratches on the floor and the bed is nailed down. The nursery room is a symbol for the way the narrator is treated. Her husband treats her as if she is a delicate child with no rights or a valued opinion of her own. He patronisingly calls her “… blessed little goose”(p131) The language and the images invoked, as the narrator describes the wallpaper reflects the depression of her mind – “debased” “delirium” “equal distraction” “grotesque”.
She talks of the paper “Suddenly committing suicide.. ” This is an indication that she is unconsciously considering taking her own life. As her mental heath declines further she even considers “to jump out of the window”(p142) as an “admirable exercise”. She refers to the pattern as an “Optic horror, like a lot of wallowing sea-weeds in full chase”. (P134) This mirrors the self-pity and confusion of her mind. An image of stagnant inactivity is created as she refers to the pattern as a fungus “budding and sprouting in endless convulsions” (p137).
This is a metaphor for her intelligent, yet oppressed and inactive mind. A further description of the pattern conjures more images of death and decay. She describes the colour of the paper as having a “yellow smell” and says that it is not a “beautiful smell but old and foul. ” (P139) This brings to mind the sulphuric stench of rotten corpses. She wakes in the night to find the smell is “hanging over her” as if death is stalking her. As the narrator’s health declines further, her psychotic mind can see a “creeping woman” struggling to be free of the pattern.
This is a symbol of the narrator. She has to be furtive and hide from her overshadowing and over protective husband. Her intelligent and creative mind is struggling for release. The imaginary woman only appears at night and this represents the narrator’s behaviour. She is under strict control during the day and only at night is she able to allow her creative mind wander. “I think that woman gets out in the daytime”(p140). This fantasy is the narrator’s alter ego and her buried wishes to be free from her husband’s daytime constraints.
At the beginning of the story the narrator spends a lot of time admiring the view from the windows. “Out of one window I can see the garden”(p131) She even imagines people in the garden and this reflects her longing to be free of the constraints of the house. As the story progresses the narrator can see that the “creeping woman” has escaped from the wallpaper and is creeping during the day in the garden. “I can see her out of everyone of my windows! ” She even admires the creeping woman “I don’t blame her a bit” (P140). This reflects her longing to be herself. She desires to be free of the constraints of her society.
In the last entry she cannot bare to look out of the window because there are now many “creeping women. ” The narrator has unconsciously realised that even if she were free of her husband’s dominance, she would never be free of the social conventions. She would always have to creep. The windows are a representation for her yearning for freedom. . Nineteenth century society was patriarchal. The middle class woman was completely dependant on the males in her family. Legally, she had no financial privileges; no rights to her own children and the law stated that everything she owned belonged to the husband upon marriage.
Furthermore society had the view that a woman was a delicate creature in need of protection from the evils of the world. Life was often oppressive and stifling and a creative woman was often viewed as foolish. A woman was not to have ambitions, other than to run her house. Her opinion was treated with triviality. Her life was often in the control of a male dominated society. In addition, Mental illness was frowned upon and the treatment of mental illness was cruel and barbaric. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was trying to make the public aware of the oppressive lives of the women of her day.
She was also trying to reduce some of the stigma associated with mental illness and the treatment. She has successfully shown the reader the patronising male dominance at the time. Her husband belittles her illness and talks to her as if he is talking to a child. “Really, dear, you are better”(p136) Gilman shows that a woman is the least important in the family. When the husband say’s “I beg… for my sake and for our child’s sake as well as your own. “(P136) The narrator’s husband obviously loved her, but he treated her as his society demanded.
He treated her with care and affection but without consideration for her creativity or her opinions. “Blessed her little heart” (p136) He uses emotional manipulation to control her wishes and implant his own dominant judgments upon her. “And you won’t go away… Why how can I dear… Really dear you are better”(136) In the last entry his control over her is relinquished as she now has the freedom of insanity. “I’ve got out at last”(p143) Up to this point the narrator has had no control over her own life. She has locked the door of the nursery and this has given her a measure of control over her husband.
“I want to astonish him”(p142) She has escaped her husbands power and demands by falling into insanity. “I kept on creeping just the same”(p143) The narrator has a contradictory personality. Part of her wishes to conform to the subversive role of women. Another part of her desires for the freedom to be imaginative, creative and she longs to reveal her true personality. The text often shows this conflict of feelings as she says “Personally, I believe … excitement and change would do me good” (p129) The conformist is evident as she agrees with her husband and confesses “. it always makes me feel bad”
Gilman has used the character of Jennie as the epiphany of female subservience. Her role in the household is clearly defined and she accepts this traditional role “Jennie does everything now”(p133) She does not even think of questioning her brothers motives. Gilman has tried to show that the narrator’s dominance is not all the fault of her husband. The narrator’s brother takes the same view as her husband. It seems the fault lies in the social conventions of the era. A man was socialised from an early age to treat women with subjugation. A woman was socialised to obey and respect her husband without question.