To What Extent Do You Agree That Knowledge Of The Historical And Social Context Of The Yellow Wallpaper Is Vital In Your Appreciation Of The Text. Make Close Reference To The Text In Your Answer

1155 words - 5 pages

When I first read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, I didn’t know a great deal about its social and historical context. I read it as a story about a woman’s descent into madness, and knew enough to know that in the Victorian period women were often denied their freedom and independence. As a result I was able to sympathise with the woman in the story. However, after detailed research into the context of the novella, my appreciation of many aspects of the story was enhanced in several ways. My sympathy for the unnamed narrator was greatly intensified because I became aware of the ways in which she was victimised and controlled in the name of ‘love’ by her husband and medical ...view middle of the document...

The women who were treated for hysteria were treated with a specific drug that caused their sight to become yellow. The ‘yellow’ wallpaper provides her with things that other people cannot see. This medical context gives the title added significance and discusses the way that she has been medicated rather than understood. The narrator sees the wallpaper as a text that she must interpret and it symbolises something that affects her directly. At first it seems merely unpleasant; “it is ripped, soiled, and an unclean yellow.” The wallpaper in fact is representative of the narrator herself. Her ability as the only one to see the yellowness is symbolic of how she is the only one to see the real patterns of the wallpaper. Furthermore, I am able to see that the aspects of the story can have more than one meaning and affect many layers of appreciation.

One of the deeper layers of appreciation that I have established throughout The Yellow Wallpaper is John’s mental suppression towards the woman. He can only treat her in a physical way, forcing her to become completely passive, forbidding her to use her mind. His containment of creativity and expression has been linked to my social context of that time. Women were used purely as a role of objectivity, and since an object has no mind at all the woman’s mental illnesses were seen as a vast burden. John does not alter his passive values to cure his wife; instead he modifies her symptoms to that of a physical illness. Society did not understand the concept of mental illness; there was a thought that all sicknesses were of a physical basis. All illnesses, including mental illnesses, required a physical treatment. Nijinsky for instance, the brilliant ballet dancer spent decades in lunatic asylums chained to the wall and regularly hosed down with cold water to treat his mental illness. I can understand the simplicity treatment. If someone has a physical illness, they would not be treated mentally, would they? So the same in turn represents the manner in which the woman became even more subdued as a result of the poor treatment of her husband. Throughout the text I have realised that there is a parallel between the ways that John treated the woman and the way that society as a whole treated people with a mental illness. Knowing about the social context towards mental illness has immensely assisted me in seeing...

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