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The husband treats the wife in a way that breaks down her sense of self and she even feels that she is not allowed to express her views in writing without his consent.
However, it should also be noted that the story also makes it clear that the husband is also, to a certain extent, a prisoner of the social norms and gender prejudices of his time and that his actions are largely typical of the social milieu and an unthinking and unreflective dominant way of thinking.
The narrator is virtually trapped in the room with the yellow wallpaper. As her life and consciousness becomes more restricted in the confinement of the room, so the wallpaper becomes an animated world to her. It is obvious that the writer is subtly suggesting that there is a conflict between the rational and logical world, determined and controlled by male consciousness, and the more imaginative female consciousness and sensibility.
The story has therefore been interpreted in many studies from the point-of-view of the way that the women are treated in modern patriarchal society. In order to fully understand the depth and meaning of the story we must see it as an expression of the conflict between gender roles and the divide between the individual and the larger society. As one study states,
Gilman lived in a time when women were routinely oppressed by society and she represented this in her story, both literally in the husband's treatment of the narrator, and figuratively, in the pattern in the wallpaper being a prison for the woman (or women) behind it. The story, at least on some level, was meant to be a warning to society that this type of treatment could only lead to disastrous results. Gilman illustrates this through the narrator's descent into madness.
Metaphor in "The Yellow Wallpaper")
The above quotation serves to point out some of the cardinal elements of the story as social commentary. The narrator's progression towards madness is a result of the denial of her individuality by her husband. In a broader context, this means that women are treated as inferior in society and that this has psychological and negative consequences for society in general. This can be seen in the fact that the woman in the wallpaper is described in a demeaning way as "creeping about" in the daylight.
Another aspect that is important in the story is the lack of awareness that the woman in the narrative has of her real predicament. "The woman who speaks to us only obscurely recognizes that conforming to the stereotype of ideal womanhood of the time is the very cause of her "nervous depression." She is faced with the terrible dilemma of being good and mad, or bad and sane." (Thomson H. 2005)
This adds depth to the "horror" of the story as the narrator is largely unaware of the forces that have driven her into this state of madness. This is also therefore a story that not only critiques societal norms and values but is also intended to make women more aware of the nature of the forces that create their suffering and loss of individuality on a personal level.
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