From the beginning of the story, the narrator’s creativity and imagination is set in conflict with John’s rationality. As a writer, the narrator thrives in her use of her imagination, and her creativity is an integral part of her nature. John does not recognise nor understand his wife’s fundamental imagination or creativity and believes that he can force out her imaginative fancies and replace them with his own solid rationality. Essentially, a large part of the “rest cure” that John forces on the narrator focuses on his attempt to terminate the narrator’s creativity and wild imagination; by forcing her to give up her writing, he hopes that he will calm her anxious nature and help her to assume her role as an ideal wife and mother. However, the narrator is not able to suppress her creativity, despite her best efforts to follow John’s instructions. Because she is not able to write openly and feels the repression of her imagination, she inadvertently exercises her mind through the yellow wallpaper.
“It is dull enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide, plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.”
Although the narrator attempts to incorporate John’s rationality into the chaotic pattern of the wallpaper, she fails. Her repressed imagination takes control, and she loses all sense of reality, becoming lost in delusions and the idea that she herself was the woman trapped in the wallpaper. “At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.”
The reason for the narrator’s confinement is her gender. Although explicit references to either gender in the text are rare, there is a gendered subtext , especially given the time that Gilman was writing in. It can be argued that Gilman uses the conventions of the psychological horror tale to critique the position of women within the institution of marriage, and this links to the argument that Shumaker sets out, as the speakers husband, John, is often belittling her “imagination” and can be seen as the voice of logic and sensibility. Gilman uses first person narrative which prioritises women as a whole from the start. The women that the reader meets in the novella could be meant to find fulfilment within the home, while the men in the story hold positions as high ranking physicians. The narrators lack of a name also reinforces the notion that she is speaking as the voice of women collectively, rather than as an individual, which also shows that Shumaker may he correct in saying that the term “imaginative” is
decidedly gendered, as the narrator speaks for the whole of the female population.
The structure of The Yellow Wallpaper creates a sense of immediacy and intimacy, and Gilman chooses to write in a journal-style, first person narrative
“The Yellow Wallpaper” can be seen as a feminist story in that women’s confinement is shown by the use of the yellow wallpaper. The female narrator of the story is in a prison cell, the nursery room which has solid signs of imprisonment, such as barred windows, and is being under scrutiny by his physician husband to see if she shows the proper behaviour expected of her. This story has been viewed by many critics as a “feminist declaration of liberty”. The paranoia of being under an incessant watch makes the narrator go insane, however, this seeming madness liberates her from the patriarchal concepts of appropriate feminine behaviour.
The tragic side to Esther Greenwood’s imagination is that Esther’s self critical attitude can be so ruthless as to be self destructive, to the point where Esther feels split in two and that she’s a stranger to herself. When she looks in the mirror she doesn’t see herself: she sees a disembodied face. These cracks in Esther’s personality come through when she literally takes on another personality, particularly when she meets men, Elly Higginbottom is a prime example of this.
But it is perhaps because Esther is so intimate with the experience of being a stranger herself that she can identify with people on the margins of American society – people who are considered outsiders or strangers or criminals or mentally ill just because they dont fit into the mainstream definition of what an American should be. This may be something to do with Esther’s self consciousness about her German background, her growing up in a non-tradition
Merriam-Webster describes a Bildungsroman as “a class of novel derived from the German literature that deals with the formative years of the main character, whose morals and psychological development is depicted. It typically ends on a positive note, with the hero’s foolish mistakes and painful disappointment behind him and a life of usefulness ahead.” Throughout the novel it becomes increasingly clear that this is a typical example of a Bildungsroman as Esther fails so tragically, and arguably never crosses the bridge into adult life and gets closure from this experience. Throughout the novel, the reader sees Esther’s problems grow, perhaps as she has never had a successful relationship with a man; her father died when she was nine and she explains in the beginning of the book that this was the last time she was happy. It can be said that it is from this point Esther’s mental state begins to deteriorate and starts on her downwards spiral of depression.
Esther’s relationship with Buddy Willard is noteable, as it is uncertain whether the two are truly in love, particularly as Esther says “ever since Buddy Willard had told me about that waitress I had been thinking I ought to go sleep with somebody myself. Sleeping with Buddy wouldn’t count, though, because he would still be one person ahead of me, it would have to be with somebody else” the fact that Esther is so young begs the question of whether the “love” she has for Buddy is more of an obsession than actual love, which links to Conrad Shumaker’s argument, as Buddy is not depicted to have any sort of obsession for Esther, nor is he exaggerating the relationship they have in the same way that Esther is.
Bell jar is her imagination and not an autobiography