Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” depicts the explicit theme of writing and the implicit theme of empowerment through writing. This feminist captivity narrative focuses on the narrator’s experiences during her confinement in the nursery with the yellow wallpaper. Her isolation in the colonial mansion is her husband’s decision. Despite her situation, the narrator writes about her views and experiences during her confinement, ending with the release of the woman from the yellow wallpaper (see Short Summary and Analysis of Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”). As illustrated in the following quotations from the text, the theme of writing as empowerment is implied in the narrator’s musings during her stay in the mansion. Even though she initially despises the yellow wallpaper, the narrator claims her space as her territory (Golden 16) and keeps writing. This behavior highlights the theme of writing as a way for her to achieve empowerment despite an oppressive situation.
The theme of writing as empowerment is examined in this literary analysis through the narrator’s character and her dealings with other characters, such as John and Jennie. This theme relates with other themes in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” For example, through writing, the narrator experiences freedom and free will, which are a theme in the short story. Also, the theme of sex discrimination against women is partly addressed through the narrator’s persistence to write despite constraints during her confinement in the room with the yellow wallpaper.
Writing despite Opposition (Quotes #1 through #4)
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story shows the theme of empowerment through writing in terms of the narrator’s decision to write despite opposition. The following quotes portray such opposition, as well as the narrator’s decision to continue writing in the confines of the walls with the yellow wallpaper:
- “I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal – having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition” (Gilman 648).
- “I am sitting by the window now, up in this atrocious nursery, and there is nothing to hinder my writing as much as I please, save lack of strength” (649).
- “It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work” (649).
- “There comes John’s sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing” (650).
In Quote #1, the narrator says that she experiences opposition to her writing. However, she writes even when she needs to be sly about it. This quote shows the theme of writing as a form of empowerment in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” by depicting social opposition to women’s writing, as well as the persistence of women, like the narrator, to write despite social barriers. In relation, Quote #2 reflects the narrator’s desire to keep writing despite being in the atrocious nursery with the yellow wallpaper. She obsesses about the yellow wallpaper but continues her writing efforts. Moreover, the theme is notable in the contrast between the narrator’s writing efforts and the passiveness of her social environment. For example, Quote #3 shows the lack of social support for the narrator’s writing. Despite the lack of support, she continues writing. In the context of this thematic analysis, Quote #4 further shows opposition, as well as the narrator’s persistence to write. Based on these text excerpts, Gilman’s short story builds the theme of empowerment through writing, by suggesting that it is possible to write even in the midst of social opposition, which gives more meaning to the narrator’s writing endeavor. Thus, in this thematic analysis of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman leads the reader to the interpretation that such contrast gives meaning to writing as a form of empowerment.
Writing as Self-Expression and Relief (Quote #5)
The implicit theme of empowerment through writing is observable in “The Yellow Wallpaper” through the narrator’s view that writing is a relief and allows her to express ideas. In developing this theme, Gilman directly portrays this perspective in the following quote:
- “I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me” (649).
Self-expression and relief are connected to the theme of writing as empowerment. For example, in Quote #5, Gilman’s narrator states that she uses writing to express her ideas. Considering that self-expression is a form of empowerment (Freysinger and Flannery 303), the narrator’s writing empowers her, and addresses issues linked to sex discrimination, which is another theme in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” This quote pertains to the empowerment of women. In addition, the quote states that the narrator finds relief and rest in writing. Thus, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” points to the theme of empowerment through writing by showing that writing is a form of self-expression and a way of relief, especially for women.
Writing to Uplift Women’s Roles (Quote #6)
Charlotte Perkins Gilman considers the significance of writing in addressing the role of women. Despite her confinement in the room with the yellow wallpaper, the narrator persists in writing. In the following quote, the short story presents the theme of empowerment through writing by illustrating the differences between Jennie’s role and the narrator’s aimed role involving writing:
- “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! But I can write when she is out” (650).
In Quote #6, Gilman depicts Jennie as the “perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper,” which is a traditional and sexist view that disempowers women. In addition, she “hopes for no better profession.” Thus, the quotation describes Jennie as a conformist who accepts society’s oppression of women. She is content in her housekeeping role. In the same quote, Gilman’s narrator says that, in Jennie’s absence, she can write in the room with the yellow wallpaper. This excerpt supports the theme of empowerment through writing by establishing a dichotomy: the sexist disempowerment of women like Jennie, and the empowerment of women like the narrator through endeavors she seeks on her own, such as writing. Through this dichotomy in the quoted text, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” highlights the thematic view that the narrator’s writing efforts uplift her role above that of the traditional and socially restrained role of a housekeeper.
Explanation and Importance of the Theme of Empowerment through Writing in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”
The theme of empowerment through writing is a socially relevant point in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In the cited quotes, this theme is presented in three prongs: writing despite the opposition, writing as self-expression and relief, and writing to uplift women’s roles. Focused on the narrator’s writing endeavor, the plot illustrates how writing helps address the oppression of women, as represented through the narrator’s character. In this regard, this theme, the narrator, and what she represents are central to Gilman’s short story.
The theme of empowerment through writing is important because it adds meaning to the narrator’s persistence in writing. In addition, the theme sheds light on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s own writing, as in her effort to write “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The reader’s attention is directed toward the significance of writing and, implicitly, the significance of writing as an empowering way to address the oppression of women. This thematic analysis emphasizes how writing and literature can enlighten and improve society.
Works Cited and References
- “Exhibition: Reading ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’.” United States National Library of Medicine, 12 Jun. 2018.
- Akşehir, Mahinur. “Reading ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ as Post-Traumatic Writing.” Interactions: Ege University Journal of British and American Studies 17 (2008): 1-10.
- Dock, Julie Bates, et al. “‘But One Expects That’: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and the Shifting Light of Scholarship.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (1996): 52-65.
- Ford, Karen. “‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and Women’s Discourse.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 4.2 (1985): 309-314.
- Freysinger, Valeria J., and Daniele Flannery. “Women’s leisure: Affiliation, self-determination, empowerment and resistance?” Society and Leisure 15.1 (1992): 303-321.
- Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (Stetson, Charlotte Perkins). “The Yellow Wallpaper.” New England Magazine, Jan. 1892, pp. 647-657.
- Golden, Catherine J. “Marking Her Territory: Feline Behavior in ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’.” American Literary Realism 40.1 (2007): 16-31.
- Herndl, Diane Price. “The Writing Cure: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Anna O., and ‘Hysterical’ Writing.” NWSA Journal 1.1 (1988): 52-74.
- Marston, Peter J., and Bambi Rockwell. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: Rhetorical Subversion in Feminist Literature.” Women’s Studies in Communication 14.2 (1991): 58-72.
- Radner, Joan N., and Susan S. Lanser. “The feminist voice: Strategies of coding in folklore and literature.” Journal of American Folklore (1987): 412-425.