In the short story called “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the narrator seems to be an unhappy woman living in a temporary house, trapped with barriers that would limit her abilities to be free. Being a trapped woman with a nervous depression disorder, she is heavily scrutinized and looked down upon by her loved ones. Throughout the story, the narrator shows that psychologically, she is repeatedly bothered with every little thing that surrounds her. In her view, the negative aspect such as the feeling of being trapped by every inch of wallpaper around her signifies the importance of adjusting to the lack of physical space. In Yi-Fu Tuan’s Space and Place, Tuan’s explanation of experiential perspective and connotation of distance perfectly represents the narrator’s experience and lack of space in The Yellow Wallpaper. The ideas of distance, experiential perspective, space and place are supported by both texts to demonstrate how significant these aspects influence the character’s mind and her actions. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the concept of space and place proved to be influential to the narrator’s drastic change in development of character; which led to perseverance of finding her own identity and freeing herself within the trapping wallpapers.
The narrator’s perseverance and drive of motivation was based on the narrator’s own experiential perspective. The term experiential perspective means derived off of a person’s experience, emotions and underwent burden based on the person’s experience and feelings. Then a person’s mind is set with the intention to create a reality or a destination where he/she awaits to live for. Similarly, the narrator in the Yellow Wallpaper underwent a mental sense of agony. The narrator was told that she was ‘forbidden’ to do anything relating to ‘work’ (Gilman 437). This mental stress gave her a low self-esteem to begin with, where she would think a lot and have to spend time resting in her room alone. She knew that with her disorder, she would have to live with rules and be looked at differently by others. This would only add on to the negative and anxious feeling that she already felt about her new environment and her own personal space.
Throughout the passage in the Yellow Wallpaper, space is valued implicitly in the story. According to Tuan, “Freedom implies space; it means having the power and enough room in which to act” which the narrator in the Yellow Wallpaper lacks (Tuan 52). She is not given the space to be able to ‘act’. She does not have the freedom, power, and most importantly, not given a chance to prove herself that she is able to do things despite having a nervous depression. The relation of Tuan’s explanation of space connects to the narrator’s situation being stuck in her room. It gives a clear understanding of the narrator lacking space and how it challenges the narrator’s ability to function within the space.
Distance is displayed as a factor in relevance to space. It is explained that within the room, distance was a ‘degree of accessibility’ (Tuan 46). The narrator lacks that sense of accessibility, where she is not able to obtain or attain anything outside of her boundary. Within the boundary she is given, the narrator has to consciously deal with the wallpaper that would deliberately test her mentally. In a way, lack of distance judge her view of John. She felt that he would always pamper her and make decisions for her without her opinion. For what seems to be the best interest for her, she is obligated to listen to him because he is her husband and a very educated physician. John told the narrator that she is only allowed to be in this particular room in which she was assigned to when he is not there. She is restrained from going anywhere or doing anything. The narrator feels that in a sense, the lack of freedom and space made her feel powerless and having no rights to her own life.
The ample amount of time being alone and the lack of space in her bedroom impelled the narrator to observe the littlest thing surrounding her. She noticed this “sprawling, flamboyant pattern” wallpaper that bothered her every time she looks at it (Gilman 438). This wallpaper continuously distracted her. She found herself being distantly too close to the wallpaper. She made the distinction that on the outside pattern of the wallpaper, ‘the dim shapes get clearer every day” (Gilman 441). Although she is being paranoid about the wallpaper, at one point, she feels lucky that John wants her to be in the room. We can sense a change of character of the narrator because she views the space in a positive and different way. She realizes that she should keep this secret to herself only. Even without the physical space and distance, the narrator creatively thought there is nothing she can do about the wallpaper but to creatively envisions the dramatic effects of the wallpaper. She envisions “a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder- I begin to think- I wish John would take me away from here!” (Gilman 441). This quote is significant because after spending numerous moments thinking about the wallpaper, the narrator realized that with her remaining days there in her bedroom, it seems that she turned the negative situation into a positive one. The wallpaper that would always come into her mind as a unpleasant view, turned into a curious adventure in finding who the creeping woman behind the wall is.
With the last day left, the narrator noticed that at the night time, the woman shook the wallpaper again. “In the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard” (Gilman 444). This vividly clear image describes the narrator herself. In the daytime, she ‘keeps still’ and does not show anger and any type of vicious movements during the day. On the other side, the ‘shady spots’ is where the woman trapped inside the wallpaper reacts by shaking the bars hard. The trapped woman epitomizes herself. At night time, the narrator is always talking about the yellow wallpaper and how it bothers her. She feels as if the wallpapers around her are trapping her; in relation to the actual woman holding and shaking the bars.
The narrator needed to help the trapped woman behind the wallpapers because she felt that if she should set her free, she would be freeing herself behind the yellow wallpapers. The narrator felt a sense of being contained because she feels trapped within the space given to her. Based on this experience, it has led the narrator to take a risk that would allow her to be confident with her decisions. She wanted to prove that she should not be limited to her abilities. Tuan mentions how the experience of a person’s life can lead to a different path “which a person knows and constructs a reality” in how they want their life to be (Tuan 8). The narrator wants to be able to explore, go beyond her limits and show that the distance of happiness comes from how far her abilities allow her to go, not from what she is restricted.
Although distance and space has its own pros and cons, the narrator wanted to distant herself away from the others as far as possible because all she wants is time for herself to be alone. Having the type of space or distance away from others including her husband, she would have the opportunity to be alone. She is able to prove that she can think for herself and show that there is nothing wrong with her mentally and physically. This is where literal space gives the protagonist a sense of spaciousness. By discovering the hidden women inside the wallpaper, she made the distinctive connection that the trapped women inside the wallpaper was her. She found herself trapped, gasping for air as she would later on rip off all the wallpaper, without telling anybody what she is doing.
Throughout different events, there are different signs that show gradual change of the narrator’s character. The narrator in the Yellow Wallpaper becomes optimistic. Knowing that John prevent her in doing certain things because of her severe nervous depression, she feels that she has the ability to prove John wrong despite the fact that he disagrees. For example, she knows that she appreciates John’s help and that he had control over her for her own benefit, but she knew she needed to live differently. She feels unhappy and enclosed by the ones she loves. She retaliates by exploring the walls of her room and using his own words against him “He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control” (Gilman 441). The narrator in a way started to rebel against her own husband, by keeping her thoughts to herself and not trusting others easily. She knew there was something up with the yellow wallpapers and she planned to find out by herself. This would show that with “congenial work, with excitement and change”, it would do her good and free herself from the trapped walls. (Gilman 437)
Upon the space and situation she is given, the narrator evolves throughout her experience. At first, she did not like the presence of the yellow wallpaper, but she adjusted to it. She was quite fond of it and decided to explore the matter a little deeper. She showed development in how she interacts with herself and others physically and mentally. Although the narrator wanted to distant herself away from others, she found a way to express herself, in a way that she is able to relieve her stress and things inside her mind. Even with the lack of space, she is able to prove that she has a mind of her own and have the ability to free herself with all the yellow wallpaper surrounding her.
Kennedy, X. J., and Dana Gioia. An Introduction to Fiction. 11th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.
Tuan, Yi-fu. Space and Place: the Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1977. Print.