Men often view women as weak creatures ruled by their bodies, emotions, and lust. This warped view contributes significantly to the struggle that women face legally, physically, and mentally. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses mood, imagery, and symbolism to further the theme of her story that women are often treated as the weaker sex. Gilman uses these methods as a means to explore the subject of gender bias between couples and within society.
Gilman uses mood throughout the story to create a depressive atmosphere, which allows the reader to observe the narrator’s point of view. The climate of the story also helps us understand the mental state of the narrator and gives us a better perspective on her condition. The story and mood are established in this diary-style type of writing by the narrator, which includes her reporting of brief interjections from her husband. The story follows the narrator’s struggle with self-identity and mental instability that is intensified by her husband’s belief that women are the weaker sex. The narrator reveals the husband’s bias early on in the story: “John is a physician, and perhaps- (I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)- perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster” (542). This phrase expresses the thought that she could heal if it were not for her husband’s belief that she is the weaker sex.
While the mood is established immediately in the story, it is the use of imagery that adds depth to the story and helps the reader gain a better understanding of the theme. Gilman uses four of the five significant types of imagery, specifically sight, sound, smell, and touch, to enhance the narrator’s progression into psychosis. Two examples of Gilman’s use of smell are: “The color is repellant, almost revolting: a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight,” and “The only thing that I can think of that it is like the color of the paper! A yellow smell” (543, 549). Yellow describes the narrator’s overall suffocating feeling of being trapped in both the house and her mental state.
Mood and imagery establish an overall atmosphere, but Gilman’s use of symbolism in “The Yellow Wallpaper” helps the reader connect with the narrator’s mental state by using physical objects to communicate the theme of the story. The wallpaper becomes a symbol of the narrator’s desire to escape the idea that women are the weaker sex. Gilman writes, “The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out” (547). The narrator begins to peel the wallpaper from the walls in hopes of freeing the woman she thinks is hiding behind it. The entire house is a symbol of the narrator’s oppression at the hand of society’s rules and her husband’s bias towards women.
Mood, imagery, and symbolism advance the author’s theme that women should find the strength to push past stereotypes and overcome the bias of others around us. The story clearly shows that the thoughts and opinions of the people around us can sometimes influence how we feel physically. Readers hopefully learn through this story to follow their instincts when it comes to personal health and welfare, and to ignore the bias of society.
Written by Kelly (Kasper) Blake