Gray writes of American literature in that it is, “….a great tradition of American narratives that juxtapose the dream of freedom with the reality of oppression, the Edenic myth (of Africa here, of America usually elsewhere) with a history of fall and redemption – all the while telling us the story of an apparently ordinary, but actually remarkable, man” (A Brief History of American Literature). Charlotte Perkins Gilman is such a writer. She took on gender inequality in a truly extraordinary way so much so that male doctors later changed their technique based on her criticism.
This character lived in a patriarchy society. Male doctors prescribed women, “…phosphates or phosphites—whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again” (Gilman). Women were forced to hide behind a facade. The narrator says, “But John says if I feel so I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself,—before him, at least,—and that makes me very tired” (Gilman). Any deviation would have led the husband to dismiss wives as emotional tendencies.
Women who had serious medical conditions never received treatment because of male doctors who dismissed symptoms as being in women’s heads. Gilman writes, “John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him” (The Yellow Wallpaper).
Gender inequality existed when Gilman wrote her story. Male criticism of Gilman’s literature swiftly swept the nation with criticism like, “Such a story ought not to be written, he said; it was enough to drive anyone mad to read it” (The Forerunner). Gilman received other gender-specific criticism as, “wrote to say that it was the best description of incipient insanity he had ever seen, and–begging my pardon–had I been there?” (The Forerunner).
The Forerunner was a journal on women’s rights written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman between 1909 and 1916. She, a writer, lived in a predominantly male world. The theme of gender roles also is present. The narrator compares her forbidden writing (a man’s role that probably contributed to her breakdown if you ask a man) to her sister-in-law. Gilman writes, “She is a perfect, and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!” (The Yellow Wallpaper). First, Jennie, the SIL, is a housekeeper. She is a perfect woman by male standards because she took a job that was made just for women. There is also a reference to Silas Weir Mitchell who was a famed physician who had a rest home.
Gilman makes a reference to forced confinement which she connects in her story which centered around this treatment for female-prone conditions. She writes, “John says if I don’t pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall” (Gilman). It makes sense that she immediately received backlash from the medical community as she dared to call of their treatment as contradicted their theories which were used to treat women more than men based on beliefs of their false knowledge of male and female biology.
This story uses forced confinement as a major theme to show how it affected women both emotionally and physically.
Gilman writes, “This paper looks to me as if it knew what a vicious influence it had!” (The Yellow Wallpaper).
Gilman writes, “There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside-down” (The Yellow Wallpaper).
The character says of the wallpaper, “I know this thing was not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of” (Gilman).
Women today rarely think about the freedom and rights until we lack them. In today’s society, it is not so clear as it was in the 1890s. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a trailblazer much like many of the women who stood beside her pushing social boundaries for women today. Today, it is a choice to be a wife or a high-ranking professional which would have been impossible without the women who lived during the Victorian Era.