A Key for Every Door

Reads: 508  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
Gilman demonstrates through the restrictive era, the main character personnel environment, and repressive family members that without challenging one’s barriers well-being becomes illusive.

Submitted: April 28, 2011

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 28, 2011

A A A

A A A


Benji Crow
Instructor Kornfeld
English 1B
9 February 2007
A Key for Every Door
A new mother in the Victorian era who suffers symptoms of Postpartum Depression (PPD) is prescribed rest. While the men in her life repress her; she cooks up a recipe for a nervous breakdown. The main character takes the physicians advice and goes on a three month resting period with, John, her husband. All she really needs is a little excitement, to get out, to meet people, to fix up the place and to write. She knows all these things would do her good. In fact, she holds the true prescription to her own mental health. Charlotte Perkins Gilman escorts readers through “The Yellow Wallpaper” a fictional story with hints of the author’s real life experiences. The main character must fight her way through complex gender roles of the era. She is presented as a nervous woman; the husband is a prestigious physician that denies she is sick, and is closed off to her feelings and emotions. Gilman demonstrates through the restrictive era, the main character personnel environment, and repressive family members that without challenging one’s barriers well-being becomes illusive.
The first boundary is one all women faced in the Victorian era, the social restrictions their gender placed on them. A time of being urbanized, social classes were forming, a time when it was easier for women to accept their place in the home. The men’s attitude towards women of this Era was that a woman’s career was her marriage. Women were to groom themselves like a beautiful racehorse daily. They were treated more like stock, and not as an equal counterpart of the marriage. Talents that were acceptable were singing, and/or playing an instrument, nothing that would threaten a husband’s intelligence. A time when women were seen and not heard, they didn’t have a voice and were discouraged from writing. Gentlewomen were to be seen as innocent, biddable, and be ignorant of intellectual opinion, to be weak and dependent to men. This holds true for the main character, any signs of independence, John steps in by telling her to not lift a finger to just breathe the fresh air. That is no way to live; a woman needs more than to just breathe. John fails to listen to her pleas, to him his life is more important, and this makes her feel like a beast-of-burden. When John talks about her condition with people outside the house he says, “there is really nothing the matter […] but temporary nervous depression”(10). It’s as if he pretends she’s not ill, or not even there. What kind of physician is he; he can’t even see that her condition is real. The only way these Victorian boundaries can be broken is to challenge them. To not play the role of a common housewife. To get out in the world and show a woman’s worth.
The second boundary she faces is her prescriptive environment. The main character is prescribed rest for her nervousness by two prestigious physicians, one is her husband John and the other her brother. Mary, John’s sister is asked to take care of the baby boy while the main character rests. Mary also has another duty, she reports to John if his wife has been writing or acting the slightest bit peculiar. So every character in her environment has a big effect on her, and her condition. The main character is always being watched. The one person that shouldn’t make anyone feel nervous makes her more nervous than anyone, her own baby. Clearly a sign of PPD. Staying inside and resting doesn’t sound like a prescription at all in her case, if everything and everybody in her environment makes her condition worse, she just needs to get out. The main character even says “I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus—but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad” (16-17). Just one more way her husband controls her environment, she might as well be chained to the bed, she can’t even talk about getting out for the day, she is obligated to her rest prescription. Everything in her environment is controlled and not controlled by her.
The third boundary is the repressive relationship between her and her husband, John. She tries to convey her feelings about the colonial mansion that John has rented for the summer by saying “there is something strange about the house—I can feel it” John keeps her on the straight and narrow by replying “what [you feel is] a draught” then proceeded to close the window (23-24). A sign that John isn’t listening, she wants to talk about the house, she want to be engaged in real conversation. John’s reactions keeps putting her on the other side, the side of a patient, not a wife, he’s closed off from her. She senses the distance between them, and that makes her feel like a burden on John. He’s got her convinced the nervous condition makes her “unreasonable angry” and overly “sensitive” towards him, John reinforces the prescription by stating “if [you] feel so, [you] shall neglect proper self-control” (25-26). The rest prescription keeps getting rammed down her throat, to the point of hindering recovery. They have more of a doctor patient relationship, rather than a husband wife, which creates a large barrier between them. Another example of his repressing her is that John knows the upstairs room with the washed out pale yellow wallpaper bothers her, he had planned on fixing it, but decides it was getting the best of her and said “nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies” (52). He keeps turning his own beloved wife into a patient. She is a prisoner of her own rest period. She might as well be in a mental hospital with padded walls, prescriptions every hour of the day and bars on the windows to barricade everyone in. To the main character it wouldn’t be much different than the upstairs room her husband, John, forces her to stay in. 
The fourth and most important boundary she needs to overcome is the internal barricades and walls she creates in herself to conform to the world around her. The main characters own thoughts are “Personally, I disagree with their ideas. […] I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good” (14). It’s not rest that she needs; she just needs a break from the norm. If they did spend some time together fixing up the mansion it would have been good for their relationship and might have prevented the nervous breakdown. It would have created time for the couple to talk, and it would have kept her mind off her condition. Writing can be very therapeutic and she should have kept writing regardless of what her Victorian husband thought. She also could have got a third opinion on her condition from a doctor outside of the family, someone with a non-biased opinion. She feels repressed, much like wallpaper holding back the natural beauty underneath. To challenge the repressing paper holding her back, she must let go of the person she has become in front of John, Mary and her brother; she must claw her way out of the suffocating situation. How long can a woman live in the secrecy of the night? The charade can’t last forever; the mask she wears cannot sustain her for the rest of her life. The main character can’t go on not being able to share her feelings and talk openly with her husband. She needs to tear down the many years of being under repressing wallpaper. She has to break the cycle of caving into men’s repression, its time for her to stand up for herself. The wallpaper is a barrier between what is seen and what is really underneath. The author’s symbolic use of the yellow wallpaper shows the stages the main character suffers until she challenges her repression. On the last day of the three month resting period, she grabs a rope, locks herself in the yellow room, then tosses the key in the front yard and proceeds to tear away the many year/layers of repression she’s endured letting out the woman trapped underneath (herself).
“It would be a same to break down that beautiful door” is a symbol of the physical and mental boundaries between them (257). Why break it down when there is a key for it. There is also a key for her own well-being. “I’ve got out at last, […] And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back” is a symbol that she’s pulled off the many years of repression and there is no turning back now (265-266). A changed woman now creeps along and wonders if all the other women got out too, as if all the women of the Era was trap alongside her in the yellow wallpaper. It may not be the prettiest road to recovery, but it’s a start. When at rock bottom, there is only one way to go, up, or in this case better mental health. She’s found her key.
 
 
 
Work Cited
 
 
Gilman, Charlotte P. “The Yellow Wallpaper” Making Arguments about Literature A Compact Guide and Anthology. Ed. John Schilb, and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s 2005. 588-600
 
 


© Copyright 2020 Cosmic Crow. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:

More Editorial and Opinion Essays