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Middle Class Women in 19th Century American Society Essay

Women were always faced specifically in history by men until they became equal to them. In the story “The yellow wallpaper” the author Charlotte Perkins Gilman says some things about the way women were treated by men back then in the 19th century. Women’s roles and place in the 19th century American society are very humiliating, rational for this society and weird. Women back then were treated as “something” not as “someone” that is to say useless beings, that do not have brains.

The yellow wallpaper symbolizes something that impacts her instantly. Through the yellow wallpaper we can see that the woman is soiled and ripped just like the dirty yellow wallpaper “It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw – not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 6, page 11). Moreover Gilman uses the woman who is affected by the yellow wallpaper to show that women in that time were trapped an inner world, which was the main reason for their insanity “I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but I now I am quite sure it is a woman.” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 6, page 10). The yellow wallpaper also shows that were oppressed by their husband so much that in order to escape from this reality, they devised situations and things that later would make them worse “At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be” (ibid).

There are three themes in the story “The yellow wallpaper”. The first theme is the subordination of women in marriage. From this theme the author is trying to show to the reader the way women were treated back then. Women were treated and seen from men as brainless children that needed supervision and special care “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction. I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 1, page 2). Moreover Gilman uses the conventional marriage in the 19th century to ensure that women remained second-class citizens. “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 1, page 1).

Furthermore men kept women in a childish state of ignorance and didn’t let them fully develop “I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day”(Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 1, page 2) and “There comes John, and I must put this away, — he hates to have me write a word” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 1, page 3). Finally men assumed that because of their superior wisdom and maturity, which led to misjudgment, patronization and domination of their women, they were the right people that could help their ‘sick’ wives “John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 2, page 3) and “ 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” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 1, page 2).

The second theme that the author Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses to show the position of women in 19th century American society is the importance of self-expression. The mental restrictions upon the women are the reason for driving them insane “There comes John, and I must put this away, — he hates to have me write a word “ (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 1, page 3) and “So I take phosphates or phospites – whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 1, page 1). Middle class women most of the times are forced to hide their fears and anxieties and try to maintain the façade of a successful marriage in order to feel that they are winning the fight against depression “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 1, page 2) and “No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.

There comes John, and I must put this away, — he hates to have me write a word” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 1, page 3). What is more is that men are forcing women to become totally passive by forbidding them to exercise their mind “So I take phosphates or phospites – whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 1, page 1). As a Gilman says “a mind that is kept in a state of forced inactivity is doomed to self-destruction”.

The third theme that the author Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses in order to show the role of women in the 19th century American society is the evils of the “resting cure”. Gilman wanted to illustrate through the story “The Yellow Wallpaper” the way a mind, which is already poisoned with anxiety and fear can deteriorate when it is forced into inactivity and it is kept from healthy work. Mitchell took seriously Gilman’s criticism and stopped the “resting cure”. Gilman criticizes any form of medical treatment that is done to the patient by ignoring his concerns, considering also herself as a passive object of treatment “So I take phosphates or phospites – whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 1, page 1) and “John says I mustn’t lose my strength, and has me take cod liver oil and lots of tonics and things, to say nothing of ale and wine and rare meat” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 3, page 7).

Women in the 19th century American society often remain silent when the man talks “Better in body perhaps – “I began, and stopped short, for he sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 3, page 9). Finally men mostly infantilize women, because they think women are children and brainless “Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little goose” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part 2, page 3).

All in all women are seen by men as children that don’t have a brain and need help and supervision from a smart person (man). Women’s role in 19th century American society is not the same with men, who are the ones that control and hear to whatever men say. Men used their smartness in order to help “sick” women overcome their sickness, but this led to the misjudgment, patronization and domination of women. Finally women weren’t let to write nor read anything that looked like a book, in order to not smart and educated and get away from the control of men.


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