The Notion of Freedom in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and this story is open to discussion on the issue of “love” from different angles, and makes the reader think critically about relationships. Does love offer individuals freedom or does it bring restrictments on life of individuals? In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, John, the husband of the narrator, symbolizes an oppressive husband figure, and through John the overall burden of relationships on individuals’ shoulders is disclosed. Let’s question love, individuality in relationships and the position of women in society together!

To begin with, John is portrayed as an oppressive husband who tries to control everything on behalf of his wife. The wife in this story is not allowed to make decisions of her own, and she is just controlled, and directed by John’s rational understanding of life. Because of the fact that she is under such control, she goes insane throughout the story gradually. Even though her illness is an excuse for John to control her, his desire of extreme control becomes a poison for the wife. This shows us that being oppressive is not healthy in relationships. Those who are oppressive individuals in relationships want to know and control everything on behalf of their loved ones, and they do not ponder over its hazardous effects. To exemplify, John decides to move to another home and does not ask his wife about this rest cure (“rest cure” was a common treatment method at that time, which included patients resting in bed and not being involved in anything else). Thus whether she wants to change her living space or not is not important for John. Another example can be seen in the manner of John who orders his wife what to do as if she is a little child. The husband calls his wife ‘little girl’ in the story as he addresses her. The fact that the wife mentions this in her account also shows us that this catches her attention as well since she feels John’s oppression in these seemingly minor instances between the conversation of the couple. When his wife gets up, John asks her: “What is it, little girl? Do not go walking about like that, you will get cold.”. Here, it can be see that the oppressive husband regards her wife as a kid and expects her to be compliant. In many relationships, women are seen as vulnerable, pitiful, fragile little girls, and most men take responsibility over controlling them. However, it is just a fallacy to satisfy the egos of the oppressive men in patriarchal societies. Furthermore, John confirms his own decision, and again disregards his wife regarding new house: “You know, the place is doing you good”. He does not feel the need to ask his wife if she feels good or not about this matter. Some husbands in patriarchal societies such as John assume that they know everything. Briefly, John symbolizes the oppressive husband figure throughout the story, and its degrading effects are exposed in the narrator’s gradual madness seen within story.

What is more, in “The Yellow Wallpaper” the husband does not have any respect for his wife’s desires and expectations. The wife also prioritizes the wishes and expectations of her husband rather than her own desires. This means, the couple see themselves as one living being together and try to comply with each other. However, when couples see each other one being, this viewpoint kills individualism and puts a burden on individuals. For example, the wife in this story is taking shape with her husband’s wishes. “There comes John, and I must put this away, he hates to have me write a word.” . This reveals that she wants to write something, it reliefs her, nonetheless, she cannot do that because she should comply with her husband’s wishes. Numerous talented brains have faded away at the hands of such relationships. In this regard, such relationships obstruct freedom of self-expression. Furthermore, the wife surrenders to her husband’s orders. In the story, she wants to spend time with her relatives, yet; John does not let her: “It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work. When I get really well, John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia down for a long visit…”. It can be see that the wife does not refuse his order even if she really wants to see Cousin Henry and Julia. Moreover, the wife thinks that she is all her husband has in his life as she states: “He said I was his darling, and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well.”. This exemplifies that, such individuals like the wife ignore the fact that they are more than being someone’s girlfriend/boyfriend. Every individual has a family and friends to love, desires to crave for, dreams to follow, and personal problems to solve. Even, this quote shows a belief that couples must take care of each other. However, every individual is strong enough to overcome their problems by themselves and it is already their responsibility. In short, the story discloses the burden of relationships throughout the wife and the husband.

All in all, Charlotte Perkins Gilman makes the reader aware of relationships that include oppressive husband figures and borders coming from male dominant limitations in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. As Rainer Maria Rilke says in “Letters to A Young Poet” about this issue, “I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.” Rilke points out that individuals do not value their own solitudes in relationships. They are free to write things, live up to their dreams, hang out with their friends without any permission from their loved ones. In my opinion, love should not enslave us and not impoverish our self-expression, and an ideal couple should consist of solitude individuals.

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