The Yellow Wallpaper: Tradition and The Other

The idea of 40 days of rest for new mothers is not uncommon. In fact, it has been in practice for centuries and though more commonly seen polygamist cultures today, western society has also taken part.  Within this tradition lies the midwife whom serves as a mother to the mother and the baby’s father whom acts extra cautious of his wife during post-partum. John’s sister whom I assume is the character named (her name was never mentioned outright), Jennie, and Mary, the nursing maid, play the role of midwives.

It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby!

Well, the Fourth of July is over! The people are gone and I am tired out. John thought it might do me good to see a little company, so we just had mother and Nellie and the children down for a week.

Of course I didn't do a thing. Jennie sees to everything now. (Gilman)

These excerpts elucidate the fact that the people in the mother’s life are just doing as they are expected to do in a traditional society. John takes care of all details concerning his wife and allows her mind and body some ease as is usually recommended. He is trying to act in her best interest as best as he knows how.  The wife’s episode is not directly the fault of John or her caretakers. She is the only one whom refused to conform to her role in society. Her beliefs do not parallel the environment and culture she becomes adopted into.

This is the problem. She attempts to break free from a culture and life that she does not want, so she abandons her identity. More superstitious cultures would even believe that her mind and will weakening depression caused a literal spirit to consume her body. "I've got out at last in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!”  is what the body of the wife says at the end of the story. Gilman never directly says that this story is not a horror, so it could be that this statement is from the former occupant of that attic room. No foreknowledge is given on “Jane” and “you” could be anyone, so these references could have been different from the current occupants of the house. One thing holds true whether taking a supernatural perspective or not on the story, the wife cracked and her innards spilled out leaving only a shell of her former self.

The horror of completely losing your body and self serves as a precautionary tale for all those living in an environment in which they disagree with the traditions and practices and for those whom lead them into that environment. It tells people to not put themselves in a situation they cannot be comfortable in and that nothing good comes from relationships where one party cannot be themselves. The wife straightly states “I must not let her find me writing.” She is hiding the very essence of herself because she knows it won’t be accepted. The more she hides herself away the more detached she becomes. Her avant-garde, feminist ideology just cannot fit into her married environment and John suffers from this. While The Yellow Wallpaper educates on the faults in handling post-partum and/or depressed women in premodern times, it also reminds why it is detrimental to stay true to yourself; and that is a lesson that applies to every era.

Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper”, 25 November 2008. Project Gutenberg. Web. 11 March 2015.

1 comment:

  1. You make a very good point, "This is the problem. She attempts to break free from a culture and life that she does not want…" I think it is important to note that so much of what is expected of Jane is culturally inculcated, and that breaking free of it is an extreme act. That may be why Jane, pre-possible-psychotic-break, considers jumping out the window. There are very few options for her to break out.


Hey! Thanks for commenting on my post. I really appreciate it.

I do want to tell you though that most of my posts are solely for the purpose of providing a new perspective to the piece of literature, whether or not I actually believe it.

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