When the narrator observes:”I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition” the statement is meant ironically. Now the reader knows that the narrator’s “nervous condition” is nothing more than a euphemism for her state of absolute captivity. Furthering the ironic resonance, she remarks “”So I take phosphates or phosphites—whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again.
” (Gilman) The reader understands that the highly regarded physicians — her husband and her brother — have medicated her for a condition they have not actually diagnosed, that they may not actually believe afflicts her, and have not bothered to explain the nature of the treatment they are administering to their patient (and loved-one). Through the intense reader-identification created by Gilman, the story’s gender based social themes emerge at the focal point of ironic expression.
The reader now “believes” in the narrator much more than in the “authority figures” who dominate her world and there is a real question, given the cavalier treatment of her medical (or mental) problems as to which of the parties is truly “insane:” the establishment or its victim. Finally, the narrator admits: “Personally, I disagree with their ideas. ” This statement sets up a rebellious energy and tone, with which the reader will be sympathetic; however, the narrator quickly repeats “But what is one to do?
” (Gilman) A description of isolation of the narrator ensues wherein the reader is led to understand that the narrator has been isolated not only physically, but mentally — reduced to the state of a dependent child. But beneath the veneer of malleability, the narrator questions her situation and doubts the efficacy of her custodians. “I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more. ” (Gilman)
Because she is isolated both mentally and physically from the “ordinary” world, the narrator is able through creative introspection to intuit not only the mechanisms by which she is being held captive : drugs, legal guardianship, money and medical expertise — but she ultimately grasps the nature of the psychological and emotional reasons for her oppression adn exploitation by the men in her world. This realization is indicated symbolically through the text of the story, most significantly by the story’s central image: the yellow wallpaper in the narrator’s room.
She contemplates the wallpaper which she despises in a room she despises and begins to understand the symbolic connotations of the paper: “”I lie here on this great immovable bed—it is nailed down, I believe—and follow that pattern about by the hour. It is as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we’ll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion. ” (Gilman)
What first appears as a “pointless pattern” ultimately leads the narrator through a progression of psychological and aesthetic realizations all for which define the self-liberation and individuation which smolders in the narrator’s resentful ironies. She searches the paper, first with male inspired logic, scientifically: ” know a little of the principle of design, and I know this thing was not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of.
” (Gilman). However, subsequent and less-linear “studies” of the paper begin to yield an understanding to the narrator, who begins to realize that the offense of the paper, aesthetically, indicates a disturbance at a deeper intuitive level of consciousness and she begins to associate the paper with the meaning of her oppressors’ actions and the reason for them: “On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind.
The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing. You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream. ” (Gilman). By now, the reader has been initiated into a world of alienation, personal disempowerment, objectification, and political and physical captivity.
In addition to this initiation, the reader has identified with the narrator and has correctly determined that she is not only sane, but perhaps brilliant and artistically gifted — in contrast to the dullard and unimaginative men who control her life. Gilman now leads the reader through the process of self-individuation brought upon through the narrators unique and presumable “insane” psychological processes.