University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
The Yellow Wallpaper
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” and John Clive’s film “The Yellow Wallpaper” are similar and different in many aspects. The main plot for example, is extremely similar in both versions. John, one of the main characters, is a doctor and tries to help his wife, the narrator, from depression he believes she suffers from. His treatment requires virtually no activity, and that she does nothing at all for several weeks. In order to make this possible, John purchases a large estate, which is isolated and quiet. He is constantly in and out of the house due to his job, so he creates a strict schedule for his wife to abide by. His possessive control over his wife’s actions is apparent in both the short story and film. It is his control that causes his wife to sneak around, for example beginning her secretive journal, which she believes relieves her mind. Clearly, these two people are not meant to be together due to their opposing views. By the end of the story, John had driven Charlotte so mad that he caught her tearing the wallpaper off the wall in her room. The little aspects are what differed between the short story and film. Things like how the house maid acted, different symbolisms, and the intentions of different characters are obvious examples. However, the similarities in John’s character between the short story and film of “The Yellow Wallpaper” are the most important portion in analyzing these two pieces. How he treats his wife, the narrator, and how he is portrayed are the main similarities in his character.
Throughout both the film and short story “The Yellow Wallpaper, John is portrayed as the villain, or antagonist. He is viewed in this way because his treatment of the narrator, or his wife, goes terribly wrong. His actions prove that he had good intentions for his wife the entire time, but his controlling personality is ultimately what drove her insane. He did love her and want her to get better, but he did not believe she knew what was best for her. We know he loved her because after John had set all these
arrangements up, he told Charlotte, “I only want what’s best for you”. Also, the fact that he had a strict schedule for his wife to abide by and his complete disregard to her attempts to escape the life she was forced into proves John cared in a way. She tried to express her feelings to John, but he only patronized her further, unknowingly making her depression worse. In both pieces, John is the narrators’ husband and is by societal law responsible to protect her. His ignorance and stubbornness causes him to do the complete opposite, because he thinks he is the one who knows what is best for her. He does not let her have a say in the matter, which is typical for men to do during this time period. Back then, woman did not really have much say in the household, in politics, or in society what so ever. However, the part when he crossed the line is when he began to treat her as if she was a patient, not his wife. This is obvious when John explains to her, “You must abide by my schedule”. His neglect towards her feelings is what made her get sicker, and you can only push people so far before they break. That is why by the end of both pieces John finds his wife to be completely insane, crawling in their room with all of the wallpaper ripped off of the wall.
John treats his wife exactly the same in both of these pieces as well. He is quoted saying, “I love you” on multiple occasions. Back during the time that these settings took place, it was common for men to think they were the more dominant gender, and for them to not want women to have a say in anything. So John clearly is not like most men of his time. Women were also considered housewives, and all of their responsibilities were in the house. So it is not a surprise that John believed he knew what was best for his wife. He did not let her have a say even in her own health, which is why eventually she ended up going crazy. This is evident when John discovered his wife’s diary. He sits her down and says, “This is not what women do”. Reading and writing he believes only stresses her brain, and that is what is causing her sickness. Even though she pleads that writing helps her relieve stress and makes her feel better, his arrogance just makes matters worse. It is also evident when John denies his wife’s request to visit with her family members. He says it is because her treatment requires her not to see anybody. He then goes on to host his own family at his house. Charlotte
completely freaks out at the dinner because of all the stress. By this point in the story, the readers get a clear idea that Charlotte will not be normal again.
Keeping both pieces in mind, “The Yellow Wallpaper” has to be one of the most impressive pieces I have ever read and watched. Even though it was written in the late 1800’s, it is surprisingly modern in its content. It is clear that mental illness played a major role in the mindset of the narrator. The extended metaphor of the wallpaper as the restricting force that puts down women in society was clear. I also really liked how both authors portrayed John as a rich, successful, and powerful man. I think he fit the description of how that type of man acts today, with a sense of nobility. Thinking that you know everything and can never do wrong is not a good way to live. John’s inability to complete any of his wife’s requests can be seen as a metaphor to a society that is unjust to women. Despite John’s good intentions, in the end his wife continued to suffer. I would recommend this piece to women who feel they are being put down by men, and not treated equally. Its meanings are deep and hard to understand, however they are powerful and significant. Every aspect of this story can be compared to modern day life. I personally see multiple similarities between the story and society today. Women are constantly not being treated fairly. Both authors did an excellent job in describing characters and hiding messages throughout the story. I know this because it was an exhausting job totally understanding these pieces.