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Gilman makes John the window through which readers can view the negative images of women in her society.In Gilman’s lifetime, women’s right to become full citizens and to vote became one of the primary issues debated in the home, the media, and the political arena.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman used her personal bout with postpartum depression to create a powerful fictional narrative which has broad implications for women.
When the narrator recognizes that there is more than one trapped, creeping woman, Gilman indicates that the meaning of her story extends beyond an isolated, individual situation.
"The Yellow Wallpaper" commands attention not only for the harrowing journey into madness it portrays, but also for its realism.
It comes as no surprise, then, to discover that the "The Yellow Wallpaper" is autobiographical. She was suffering from depression, "nervous prostration" as diagnosed by the doctor, after the birth of her daughter.
In that volume he wrote: "Now that I have it in my collection, I shiver over it as much as I did when I first read it in manuscript, though I agree with the editor of The Atlantic of the time that it was too terribly good to be printed." It was not until 1973, when it was republished after being out of print for years, that the first lengthy analysis of the story was written by Elaine R. Writing in the afterword to the volume, she stated that '"The Yellow Wallpaper' is a small literary masterpiece" and a work that "does deserve the widest possible audience." Since then, "The Yellow Wallpaper" has received widespread critical attention.
Contemporary scholars have interpreted the story in numerous ways, with feminist readings being the most common.At first, she tries to fight against the growing lethargy that controls her. Yet, while one part of her may believe John wrong, another part that has internalized the negative definitions of womanhood believes that since he is the man, the doctor, and therefore the authority, then he may be right.Because they hold unequal power positions in the relationship and in society, she lacks the courage and self-esteem to assert her will over his even though she knows that his “treatment” is harming her.In her horrifying depiction of a housewife gone mad, Gilman attempts to warn her readership that denying women full humanity is dangerous to women, family, and society as a whole."The Yellow Wallpaper," which was first published in the New England Magazine in 1892 after being rejected by the editor of The Atlantic, did not receive much serious attention until American writer and critic William Dean Howells published it in his The Great Modern American Stories in 1920.Gilman’s main purpose in writing is to condemn not only a specific medical treatment but also the misogynistic principles and resulting sexual politics that make such a treatment possible.The unequal relationship between the narrator and John is a microcosm of the larger gender inequity in society.Deprived of any meaningful activity, purpose, and self-definition, the narrator’s mind becomes confused and, predictably, childlike in its fascination with the shadows in the wallpaper.In the end, the narrator triumphs over John—she literally crawls over him—but escapes from him only into madness.Gilman makes it clear that much of John’s condescending and paternal behavior toward his wife has little to do with her illness.He dismisses her well-thought-out opinions and her “flights of fancy” with equal disdain, while he belittles her creative impulses.