The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

They take up residence in an upper room of the house, thought to be a nursery, with bars on the windows and old faded yellow wallpaper attached to the walls. This wallpaper plays a large role in the progression of the woman’s illness as she begins to see women creeping around inside it, trying to escape the oppression they, too, have experienced. In the end, the woman is completely insane, creeping around the walls herself after peeling the wallpaper off as high as she can reach, even creeping over her husband, who has fainted against the wall, to continue her progress unimpeded. The story, an exaggerated account of an event from Gilman’s own life, stands as a statement against the male oppression of women experienced throughout much of history, but particularly as it was still experienced in the late 19th century when this story was written. In many ways, the story represents the extreme manifestations of what Betty Friedan calls ‘the problem that has no name’ in her 1963 novel The Feminine Mystique in that the woman of the story suffers from the same general malaise experienced by the women described in Friedan’s novel. Although many advances have been made on the part of women to explore their dreams, ‘the problem that has no name’ discussed by Friedan and illustrated by Gilman remains an issue as women continue to find, in an overly busy life trying to fulfill the needs of the entire family, little time to identify, much less pursue, their dreams and goals.The general feeling Friedan identifies in the voices of her contemporaries in the 1950s compares nearly point by point with that impression expressed in Gilman’s Yellow Wallpaper. Friedan calls it a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone (Friedan, 1963).