Sunday, September 14, 2008

Latent Sexism

One of the most striking aspects of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” was the criticism of masculinity that can be found in the subtext of the story. At first glance, many of the slights toward the main character can be missed. We read about several instances where John denies the narrator when she requests a change in her desolate daily routine or her less than perfect accommodations in the room with the yellow wallpaper. The narrator has given up her own will, bending to John’s every request. Although John is a loving man, he is often very condescending toward the narrator. His language is often very similar to the way one might speak to a child when he is addressing his wife. When the narrator confesses that she has seen people walking down the lane through the window in her room, she records that John told her that, “my imaginative power and habit of story—making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try. (62)” It is certain that John’s words are not violent and they were probably not meant to be hurtful in any way; although they are terribly condescending in a way. Gilman was criticizing the society’s view of women as weak, emotional, and child-like creatures. The narrator has no choice but bend to the will of the men around her on even the most frivolous of issues. Gilman’s point was not to make John out to be a horrible, abusive husband, but instead to show how a woman could be driven to lunacy by a complete lack of respect from her society as well as her husband. I feel that Gilman’s true purpose in writing this story was to uncover the latent sexism that is so often carried by condescension and hidden by endearing words.

No comments: