Gilman lived at a time when society was getting torn by two contradictory ideologies – True Womanhood and Women’s Rights. Through her works (including The Yellow Wallpaper) she firmly sied with the cause of women’s rights. She
“stood for the potentialities of American womanhood and struggled to free herself from true to free woman. As a woman and as an author, she perceptively analyzed the most basic conditions under which -women live out their lives and developed her seminal ideas: the crucial necessity for women to have careers outside the home; the ironclad oppression of patriarchal culture; the stultifying effects of the nineteenth century doctrine of the “woman’s sphere”; the impossible “double-bind” experience of the woman artist, and the depression and emotional breakdown which often result. Most obviously, Gilman replaces the “pure woman,” the Victorian angel in the house, with the New Woman who rejects “the biological yoke of femininity” and claims the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of a human being.” (Quawas, 2006, p.35)
The most radical perspective of The Yellow Wallpaper lies in the interpretation of the narrator’s deteriorating mental condition as a method of preserving sanity. In other words, her newfound health and well being springs forth from a rejection of and escape from an insane society. In this respect, Gilman’s main contribution to feminism lies in “her de-authorizing and de-privileging of the ideologically-saturated discourse of insanity. In her discussion of insanity, she confronts and critiques, either explicitly or implicitly, the patriarchal version of insanity and dis-empowers its authority. She condemns social systems, both political and private, which contribute to women’s psychological fragmentation, alienation, and madness.” (Quawas, 2006, p.35)
In conclusion, The Yellow Wallpaper is a key text in modern feminist discourse, although the social context in which it was written no longer fully exists. Reading the story can develop the reader’s understanding of the ‘woman question’ in the nineteenth century and advance or extend their historical sense. The changes advocated by Gilman through her work go beyond mere adjustment of power relation. She envisions sweeping change, whereby society’s very conception of what it means to be a man or a woman would undergo alteration. To the extent that this transformation is a progressive one, The Yellow Wallpaper will remain a masterpiece of feminist literature.
“Bed Rest Wouldn’t Do for Pioneering Feminist.” USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education) Feb. 2010: 4+.
Delashmit, Margaret, and Charles Long. “Gilman’s the Yellow Wallpaper.” Explicator 50.1 (1991): 32-33.
Quawas, Rula. “A New Woman’s Journey into Insanity: Descent and Return in the Yellow Wallpaper.” AUMLA : Journal of the Australasian Universities Modern Language Association (2006): 35+.