The “Monster” Inside The Wallpaper
Monster culture symbolizes what we see in ourselves. In the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Charlotte Perkins Gilman presents a narrative where the main character represents a “monster” because of her nervous condition. The narrator, an upper-class middle-aged woman battling from postpartum depression. Her husband often dismisses her and does not talk to her about her case; isolation from society and the outside world causes conflict within the story. Jeffery Cohen’s “Monster Culture” corresponds with the theme of gender oppression in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. It is representing what society’s constructs as “normal”, “rational”, or “civilized”. Each of Cohen’s thesis provides its own “monster” within each culture. Therefore, the narrator is considered the “monster” of the story because she represents the consequences of curiosity, desire, and rebellion often shown in women.
In general, the woman is often perceived as the “monster” because society regulates the oppression that is held on women. These monstrous events come from the social categories that society places us in. Some people view monsters as abnormal which plays into the idea Cohen is demonstrating in his monster thesis. The monster often represents an example of what is to come if one does or does not do a particular thing. The monster thesis is significant throughout this short story because it represents the internal conflict the narrator is facing. In the short story, Gilman is demonstrating the monster theory, as explained in Cohen’s fourth and fifth thesis. She uses the narrator as a way to showcase the conflict of internal battles in women.
The character’s internal conflict comes from gender oppression, which shapes her thoughts and actions. Even though it was not evident in the beginning, Gilman has good intent for showing the narrator as the victim. She battles with herself, mainly because of her own condition. She also accuses John as one of the main reasons for her not being well. John keeps her isolated, for example, by not letting her write out her thoughts. The struggle between the narrator and her husband, who is also her doctor, over the treatment and nature of her illness leads to a conflict within the narrator’s mind.
The gender discrimination in the story portrays a result of John’s behavior towards the narrator. As she continues to understand her own powerlessness she then becomes aware of her desire to take control. As a “monster” in society, not only is she having an internal and external battle; while also having a constant battle with society. At one point in the story, she has a moment of realization. “You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better and am more quiet than I was. . . I turned it off with a laugh. I had no intention of telling him it was because of the wall paper—he would make fun of me. He might even want to take me away. ” (Gilman 142) All of these events lead up to the narrator identifying herself as the woman behind the wallpaper. The woman behind the wallpaper is a symbol for all women battling with internal conflict.
Gilman shows the internal thoughts of the character by giving endless examples of isolation and separation. The narrator remains unable to visit her family, express her thoughts, or go outside of her own room throughout the entire story. As an outsider, the narrator presents context to her existence. She grieves for freedom and as a reader, we can sense her urge for independence. The story stays close to the narrator’s thoughts and feelings. The omniscient point of view helps the reader understand the narrator’s motives throughout the story. The author demonstrates the different needs of escape through society. “I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window, and such pretty, old-fashioned chintz hangings! but John would not hear of it. ” In the story, she continues to talk about the house, as a vital representation of society.
The wallpaper gradually develops its symbolism throughout the story. First, the wallpaper is not appealing in the reader’s eyes. Gilman describes the wallpaper as ripped and unclean. “The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering, unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others. ” She seems obsessed with the idea of the wallpaper. It becomes something that is tearing her up inside. She decided that instead of fearing the woman behind the wallpaper, she becomes the wallpaper. This wallpaper becomes a representation for all the obstacles that are taking place in her life: family, medicine and tradition. She lets herself get embittered with the wallpaper to the point that she becomes it, instead of just defeating the condition. Gilman uses this obstacle as a symbol that represents domiciliary life that traps women as a whole.
The idea of the monster theory appears as a prominent analysis throughout the story. “The Yellow Wallpaper” shows the perseverance and significant monster theory. Cohen’s fourth thesis: “The Monster’s Dwells at the Gates of Difference” displays the distinction between society versus “monsters” Cohen’s thesis makes up key ideas used to describe this monstrous behavior that has been continuously made up by society. Cohen clarifies that political, cultural, racial economic, sexual, and not fitting into the norm are the differences that society places us in. “Any kind of alterity can be inscribed across (constructed through) the monstrous body, but for the most part monstrous difference tends to be cultural, political, racial, economic, sexual. ” (Cohen 7) All of the categories have viewpoints of what society deems as right. Being apart of the “outside” makes you abnormal. In this case, society has viewed the narrator as an outsider because of her inadequate behavior. The patriarchal society views the “monster” as abnormal. Gilman makes the narrator a double standard by giving her the role of a woman with a condition. Being abnormal can cause a sense of monstrous behavior in the eyes of someone “normal”. The “monster” in the patriarchal society is women. The idea of gender oppression is what society perceives as “abnormal” and becomes dangerous in the sense of fitting into the norm. The monster culture Jeffery Cohen entails the ideal of normal vs. abnormal in different categories. Society creates different underlying categories that construct rankings for the “monsters”. The monstrous behavior comes from whatever you consider right and wrong. “Representing an anterior culture as monstrous justifies its displacement or extermination by rendering the act heroic. ” (Cohen 7) Here Cohen is stating that going against the norm of any culture is what society considers monstrous.
Every culture has its own version of monsters. In Cohen’s fifth thesis, “The Monster Polices the Borders of the Possible,” the “monster” is an intimidation tactic to deter individuals from going places. These monsters discourage certain actions and behaviors. In the context of the “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the narrator’s curiosity made her the monster. While being agitated by the wallpaper she becomes curious and steps outside of her comfort zone. Gilman used her as an example of what is to come because her surroundings influence her actions. When Gilman revealed the narrator as the woman behind the wallpaper, the reader knows that she is an example of the woman in a patriarchal society. The narrator has her own battles physically within the wallpaper, but she also has social and cultural borders. Society now views her as lesser because she brings conflict by being a woman with internal battles.
Even though the narrator studies the wallpaper by observing the pattern, she never makes sense of it. As the oppressor, she is dealing with isolation on her own, with the pressures of freedom. Instead of coming to terms with the situation, she becomes the monster. The consequences of being the “monster” come to play through the narrator’s behavior. When Gilman finally writes about her coming out of the wallpaper, the narrator uncovers a sense of freedom which coincides with mad behavior. As Cohen’s thesis explained, “monsters” are a threat. Gilman wants us to have sympathy for the narrator because she represents the difference that society has placed on women. Society will not accept the power that women hold and this is where oppression takes over.
- Cohen, Jeffery Jerome. “Monster Culture: Seven Theses. ” Monster Theory: Reading Culture, edited by Jeffery Jerome Cohen, University of Minnesota Press, 1996, 3-25.
- Gilman, Charlotte P, and. “The Yellow Wallpaper. ” American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps, Literary Classics of the U. S. , Inc. , 2009, pp. 131–147.
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