The Imagery Found In The Yellow Wallpaper

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The heroine of the ‘Yellow Wallpaper’ has a nervous breakdown. She and her husband move to a country house to change the situation for the patient. ‘Yellow Wallpaper’ is a series of diary notes written by a young woman during her three months in a secluded mansion in the countryside. Her husband, a successful doctor, occupying a high position in society, brings her here for the summer to improve her health. At the same time, he is guided by the principles of the so-called ‘treatment by rest’, and deprives his wife of society, books, and entertainment, leaving her alone for a long time. The storyteller, whose name Gilman does not name in the story, secretly disagrees with her husband, and therefore keeps a diary, unable to trust the ‘living soul.’ The image of the husband, a doctor, endowed with authority and power, is associated with the story with the patriarchal system itself, which disciplines the female body using various prescriptions and practices.

A storyteller placed in a room with yellow wallpaper immediately recognizes her as disgusting, and the color and pattern of the wallpaper are repulsive. It is noteworthy that the room chosen by the husband was a former nursery, and his condescending attitude towards his wife infantilizes her. Thus, in an environment devoid of any intellectual and emotional stimulus, the storyteller is fascinated by the drawing of the wallpaper and, after some time, she begins to distinguish in him also a certain background: the woman behind bars. The ambiguous ending of the story is marked by an act of disobedience and aggression (the narrator locks herself in the room, tears off the wallpaper from the walls, crawls in a circle).

The two main contrasting structures of the story are the husband’s day world, the rational world, and his wife’s irrational night fantasy world. The author contrasts the image of John, “practical to the extreme”, ignoring all things or events that “cannot be felt or seen” and his sister Jenny – the image of an impressionable and nervous wife, whom the house gives the impression of “populated by spirits… strange” and awesome. John, who considered the wife’s cause of nervous breakdown to be her “vivid imagination and penchant for writing,” leads her to an everyday solitary dwelling in the space of four walls, which almost destroys the heroine, actualizing her fears storytellers. They become a phantasmagoric screen onto which she projects her vision of the situation. Also, their intricate psychedelic ornament in the form of ‘waves of optical horror’ maintains a sense of fencing and isolation from the outside world. The heroine’s fears are inscribed in a strange wallpaper pattern, which for her is both ‘meaningless’ and ‘painful’. The storyteller’s hypotheses about the purpose of the room are evoked by images whose implicit meaning is to worry about invisible surveillance and control. The unusual and incomprehensible external wallpaper pattern is represented by a repeating fragment in which ‘the pattern begins to resemble a curled neck with two bulging eyes staring at you from the bottom up’ so that these ‘absurd unblinking eyes are everywhere’. The wallpaper pattern reinforces the previously created associative relationship of the room with the prison. The heroine herself says that “she had never encountered such expressiveness in an inanimate object”, it seems to her that the wallpaper looks at her as if she knew “about the harmful effects they have on her”.

Feeling hatred for wallpaper, the heroine notes their disgusting yellow color as “smoldering, dirty” and disturbing her “yellow smell” of wallpaper. Describing the wallpaper, Gilman uses the same epithet – “painful” as Foucault half a century later to describe the panopticon. In the end, the heroine of the story tears off the wallpaper from the walls, thereby proclaiming a deliverance from supervision and a release of consciousness.

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The image of wallpaper occupies a fundamental place in the art world, being a kind of manifestation of certain modeling categories. The text not only thematically shows the woman’s release from the shackles of the patriarchal regime, but the poetics of space directly reproduce the sequence of actions of the heroine, transforming her consciousness and saving her from the former suppressed ‘I’. It is no coincidence that the reception of the image of the wallpaper undergoes significant metamorphoses in the imagination of the heroine: from violent rejection and rejection to curiosity, the desire to explore mysterious paintings, to active actions to disrupt wallpaper from the walls of the room.

Endowed with natural sensibility, she examines the pattern for hours, and in the internal drawing of the wallpaper (sub pattern) she begins to distinguish a vague shapeless female silhouette that looks “mysterious, provocative” to her, but becomes “more pronounced every day”. She distinguishes between a woman who “sank to the floor and crawls behind the pattern.” Over time, he makes a discovery: the image on the wallpaper quickly changes in different lighting conditions, but at night in any light “at dusk, by candlelight or lamp, or worse, by moonlight”, the external pattern “becomes bars!”. Simultaneously with this discovery, the heroine’s attitude to the room changes, from a passive prisoner she turns into an active researcher. Now her life seems “much more interesting than before,” she becomes calmer, her appetite improves, and most importantly, she wakes up interest: “now there is something that I’m waiting for, looking forward to, studying.” She notes that in the daytime this woman is “restrained, quiet,” but when night falls, she begins to “shake” the bars with force and try to free herself. Sometimes the heroine seems that there are many women behind bars and they all crawl quickly. It is very curious that our heroine sees a woman who is crawling, and not, for example, standing; also, in her opinion, most women “do not crawl in the daytime,” since it is “very humiliating for them to be caught in a crawl during the day.” The heroine associates “crawling” with a protest against the humiliation suffered by women whose mental and physical freedom is limited by society.

The image of women who are crawling on all fours suggests the return to a natural free state, which implies growth and development. It was the woman’s free development that was violated by gender prejudices, built not only into the treatment schemes for ‘female diseases’ created by male institutes but also by the entire Victorian patriarchal culture, imposing disciplinary norms that shackle a woman in the strict framework of various rules and regulations, thereby depriving her creativity and freedom to express oneself. In addition to the opposition that we identified, control (discipline) – imagination that allows the heroine to break the bars and restrictions imposed on the woman, hidden signs of the heroine’s projection ‘I’ outside, the projection of her emotional state, become the most important feature of the story’s poetics in its direct relation to the space of the room. The story is conducted in the first person, and perhaps precisely because the heroine throughout the story remains anonymous and nameless for us, unable to express her thoughts, feelings, and fantasies to others, she trusts their diary, which she calls ‘dead paper’. The depressive and depressed state of the heroine is confirmed by the fact that in the wallpaper she reads her state, the lines of the pattern ‘commit suicide, falling at strange incredible angles’, and suicidal motives also appear in the interpretation of the pattern, which reminds the heroine of ‘curled neck.’ From the moment of recognition in the internal drawing of another woman, the heroine begins to find her ‘I’, her identity. As you move to the end of the story, the volume of diary entries decreases: the heroine no longer shows interest in her husband’s opinion or fear of him.

Thus, the solution of the poetics of space in the story is directly related to the problems of the “female” issue, represented through the opposition control (pattern) vs. imagination (sub pattern), where control is depicted in specific units (tracking eyes, gratings), and the heroine’s imagination, sequentially interpreting these images, projects their internal state on them (passive, depressive, and then interested, active). The artistic intent of the story ‘Yellow Wallpaper’ is also revealed with the help of such categories of the artistic world of work as color, smell, shape. The ubiquitous smell of wallpaper and their disgusting painful yellow color, the hallucination images produced by the heroine’s imagination create an ‘overwhelming’ atmosphere and determine the heroine’s behavior, aimed at protest and freedom from restrictions.

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