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The Yellow Wallpaper Questions and Answers

The Yellow Wallpaper Questions and Answers

A CRITICAL EVALUATION [BROAD TYPE QUESTIONS: 10/15 MARKS]

1. Q. What are the major themes of the story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’? Discuss.

The author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was a lecturer for social reform, and her beliefs and philosophy play an important part in the creation of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” as well as the themes and symbolism in the story. “The Yellow Wallpaper” also influenced later feminist writers. From what we know about the author of this story and from interpreting the text, there are a few themes that are clear from a “Yellow Wallpaper” analysis. “The Yellow Wallpaper” was a serious piece of literature that addressed themes pertinent to women.

 Women’s Role in Marriage

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 Women were expected to be subordinate to their husbands and completely obedient, as well as take on strictly domestic roles inside the home. Upper middle class women, like the narrator, may go for long periods of time without even leaving the home. The story reveals that this arrangement had the effect of committing women to a state of naïveté, dependence, and ignorance. John assumes he has the right to determine what’s best for his wife, and this authority is never questioned. He belittles her concerns, both concrete and the ones that arise as a result of her depression, and is said so brush her off and “laugh at her” when she speaks through, “this is to be expected in marriage” He doesn’t take her concerns seriously, and makes all the decisions about both of their lives.

 As such, she has no say in anything in her life, including her own health, and finds herself unable to even protest. Perkins Gilman, like many others, clearly disagreed with this state of things, and aimed to show the detrimental effects that came to women as a result of their lack of autonomy.

 

The narrator’s declining mental condition has both internal and external origins. 21.50 She is clearly suffering from depression, likely related to the birth of the baby MASS mentioned in the story. Yet the idleness and isolation that is supposed to cure her of this condition only worsens it. Her madness also has internal and external effects. 

Her mind, revealed in the words of her journal, becomes more and more caught up in thoughts of the wallpaper’s pattern, in hallucinations, and in her increasing paranoia about the other people in the house. Physically, she is increasingly tired and emotionally unstable, sleeping most of the days away and crying when she tries to discuss her situation with her husband, John. In the end, she succumbs in both body and mind to the madness, creeping along the wall in her room without taking notice of her surroundings.

 Throughout the story, the narrator is discouraged from doing the things she wants to do and the things that come naturally to her, like writing. On more than one occasion, she hurries to put her journal away because John is approaching. She also forces herself to act as though she’s happy and satisfied, to give the illusion that she is recovering, which is worse. She wants to be a good wife, according to the way the role is laid out for her, but struggles to conform especially with so little to actually do. The narrator is forced into silence and submission through the rest cure, and desperately needs an intellectual and emotional outlet. However, she is not granted one and it is clear that this arrangement takes a toll.

 The narrator is confined physically by her surroundings and her husband’s directives. The edges of the property, the edges of her vision, the walls of the room, and the bars on the windows all provide borders and walls behind which she must stay. Beyond these physical barriers are those set up by society for women. In this era, a woman must conform to the wishes of her husband and the culture in which she is living. Her husband has decided that she should remain inactive and in her room most of the time, and, as a doctor and her husband, she has little choice but to obey. These restrictions are reflected in the way her thoughts are confined by the wallpaper’s pattern. She finds that she can trace its patterns for hours at a time while lying completely inactive in her bed: “I lie here on this great immovable bed-it is nailed down, I believe and follow that pattern about by the hour. It is as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we’ll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion.” In this way, the pattern traps her mind even as her physical self is trapped.

 

The rest cure was commonly prescribed during this period of history for women who were “nervous.” Perkins Gilman has strong opinions about the merits of the rest cure, e, having been prescribed it herself. John’s insistence on the narrator getting “air” constantly, and his insistence that she do nothing that requires mental or physical stimulation is clearly detrimental. The narrator is also discouraged from doing activities, whether they are domestic- like cleaning or caring for her baby- in addition to things like reading, writing, and exploring the grounds of the house. She is stifled and confined both physically and mentally, which only adds to her condition. Perkins Gilman damns the rest cure in this story, by showing the detrimental effects on women, and posits that women need mental and physical stimulation to be healthy, and need to be free to make their own decisions over health and their lives.

Conformity versus Expression

As the wife of a respected physician, cian, the narrator of f “The Yellow Wallpaper” must conform to society’s norms as well as her husband’s wishes. The narrator accepts her role with very little outward dissent, although her need for freedom of expression reveals itself privately. She rebelliously and secretly writes in her journal. She stays awake at night to have time to herself. However, her need for healthy selfexpression mostly goes unmet, and so she begins to project her inward self onto her surroundings through hallucination. She sees a confined woman behind the “bars” of the wallpaper’s pattern, and she sees creeping women outside her windows. Ultimately, this unhealthy tension between conformity and expression breaks her down, and the narrator is left without the ability to

do either.

 

2. The Significance of the Title

[Q. What is the meaning of the e title ‘The Y Yellow Walle Wallpaper’? Discuss briefly.

Or, Q. Why is the title ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ so significant to the theme of the story?

 “These e nervous troubles are dreadfully benist leat are dreadfully depressing”, wrote Charlotte Perkins Gilman in her short story, The Yellow Wallpaper. Though later gaining recognition as a journalist and social critic rather than an author of n an author of fiction, Gilman is best known for thi brief and extraordinary piece of writing published.

The Yellow Wallpaper enlightens the reader on women’s health, motherhood, mental breakdown and its treatment, as s well a as feminism and gender relations in late m 19th-century America. Though many details y details are changed, the story is semiCuban autobiographical, drawing on Gilman’s own health crisis and particularly her fraught relationship with Dr Silas Weir Mitchell – who carved a reputation for t treating nervous exhaustion following his experiences as a Civil War doctor – and who was brought in to treat her in 1886. In Gilman’s own words, he drove her to “mental agony” before she rejected his treatment and began once again to write. Orkets In

ufini avonly Gilman’s short story is a straightforward one. d one. The narrator is brought by her physician husband to a summer retreat in the countryside to recover fr from her “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”. There she is to rest, 20 take tonics, air and exercise – and absolutely forbidden to engage in intellectual workuntil well again. The house is “queer”, long abandoned and isolated. The room her husband selects as their bedroom, though large, airy and and bright, is barred at the window and furnished with a bed that is bolted to the floor. The wallpaper is torn, the floor scratched and gouged. Perhaps, the narrator muses, it had once been a nursery or playroom.

It is the room’s wallpaper, a “repellant” and “smouldering unclean yellow”, with “sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin” that forms the centrepiece of the story. The narrator spends much of her days being cared for – and often left alone – in this room, reading, attempting to write (though the subterfuge this involves leaves her weary, she noted) and, increasingly, watching the wallpaper, as it starts to take on a life of its own.

The story highlights the plight of many women during the 19th century. All women were seen by physicians as susceptible to ill health and mental breakdown by reason of their biological weakness and reproductive cycles. And those who were creative and ambitious were deemed even more at risk.

The protagonist of the story might have been suffering from puerperal insanity, a severe form of mental illness labelled in the early 19th century and claimed by doctors to be triggered by the mental and physical strain of giving birth. The condition captured the interest of both psychiatrists and obstetricians, and its treatment involved quieting the nervous system and restoring the strength of the patient. In her autobiography, published in 1935, Gilman wrote of the “dragging weariness…absolute incapacity.

The story can also heasglish woller sur eldis ons al story can also be seen as a rich account of neurasthenia or nervous exhaustion, a disorder first defined by Mitchell in his book Wear and Tear, or Hints for the Overworked in 1871. Neurasthenia took hold in modernising America in the COLELN closing decades of the 19th century, as incessant ant work was said to ruin the mental health of its citizens. Women were reported to be putting them themselves at risk of on roles unsuited to their gender, hell concluded, nervous collapse with their eagerness to including higher education or political activities. ” “City-bred” women, Mitchell might be poorly equipped to fulfil the natural functions of motherhood. 

Gilman was treated with the “rest by Mitchell, as is the protagonist of the story; like an infant, dosed, fed at regular intervals and above all ordered to rest. Mitchell instructed Gilman to live as domestic a life as possible “and never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live”. 

It is the Wallpaper t wallpaper that dwells increasingly on the narrator’s mind with its “vicious influence”. Behind it, dim shapes get clearer by the day, sometimes of many women, sometimes one, stooping down and creeping about behind the pattern. At the end of the story the narrator takes the opportunity of her husband’s absence to lock the door and tear away the wallpaper, the women now creeping outside in the garden. “I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?” she asks. Her husband, on opening the door, collapses as the narrator declares: I’ve got out at last … and you can’t put me back. Now why should that man have fainted? 

Was her “escape” her salvation or had she finally lost her mind? Readers are left to reach their own conclusions.

The Yellow Wallpaper illuminates the challenges of being a woman of ambition in the late 19th century. While all women were seen vulnerable, those who expressed political ambition (suffrage reformers), or who took on male roles and challenged female dress codes (New Women), or who sought higher education or creative lives – or even read too much fiction – could be accused of flouting female conventions and placing themselves at risk of mental illness. Mitchell, largely through his treatment of Gilman and her later description of this, gained a notorious reputation, and he may well have misdiagnosed her or believed that her intellectual pursuits were too introspective.

 Yet historical scholarship has also suggested that some well-to-do and educated women might also have helped shape their own diagnoses or used their illness to avoid domestic duties that they found unpleasant or taxing. Not all doctors condemned women for their ambition – many advocated more rounded lives embracing intellectual and physical pursuits alongside domestic roles. Other patients treated by Mitchell, including the critic and historian Amelia Gere Mason and writer Sarah Butler Wister, tailored their treatments to suit their lifestyles, with Mitchell encouraging their intellectual and creative pursuits.

 

For Gilman, her divorce proceedings, rare enough at the time to be announced as a “scandal” in various American nev newspapers, began in n the same year as The Yellow Wallpaper was published, and she became increasingly active in the women’s movement. Writing years later about the short story, Gilman described how it was written to celebrate her narrow escape from utter mental ruin. 

 

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