Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper” deals with the theme of gender oppression. The final lines of the story express the ironic triumph of the story’s protagonist as she is able to finally emerge as an individual from the constraints of her male-dominated world. When the narrator of the story begins to tear down the wallpaper in her room, it is symbolic of her tearing down the exterior persona of her life. She is struggling o free “Jane” a woman she believes is trapped behind the wallpaper. In fact, the woman who is trapped is the narrator herself and the trap she is in is the constructs and rules of scoiety that prevent her from acting as a free individual. The fact that John, the narrator’s husband, faints when he sees her creeping around the room tearing away the wallpaper shows that he is unable to handle the emergence of her free personality. The social affront to his prejudice is so string that he becomes literally drained of power and life. What has happened in the story’s final scene is that the narrator has become free, but at the same time appears insane to those who are still trapped in a prejudicial world.
The readings for this unit show the negative impact of gender-identity as perceived through a male-dominated society. In Gilman’s story, the impact of chauvinism is examined in regard to medical and psychological tyranny. In Wharton’s story “The Other Two,” the idea of male bonding and male solidarity is shown as being another aspect of the way that women are victimized by men and excluded form holding social power and authority. Alice, the wife in the story, is portrayed as being little more than Waythorn’s (damaged) property. Dreiser’s novel Sister Carrie explores the difficulty that a woman experienced in trying to exist independently in society in the early twentieth-century. In the novel, Caroline is “saved” by Drouet who more or less buys her with his wealth. The remainder of the novel shows how she is objectified and desired by men but never looked as a real person. I felt that the readings for this unit were extremely interesting and important from a social and political perspective. Also, the readings show that prejudice against women is something that has historically been part of the fabric of society. The only confusing element of the readings that I experienced was with “The Yellow Wallpaper’ and this was due to the use of an unreliable narrator. I had to read the story more than once to ascertain exactly what had happened and what was going on.