Unveiling the Symbolism of John in “The Yellow Wallpaper”: What Does John Symbolize in The Yellow Wallpaper

Have you ever heard of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman? If not, let me tell you, it’s a masterpiece of American literature. It showcases the oppression of women in the 19th Century and how societal norms used to take a toll on their mental health. But do you know who else has a huge influence on the narrator’s mental state? John, her husband who symbolizes everything wrong with the patriarchal society of that era.

The Yellow Wallpaper talks about a woman who is trapped in a house with her husband and is slowly losing her sanity due to her lack of independence and constant oppression. However, John (the narrator’s husband) not only serves as an antagonist but ironically symbolizes the societal norms that are oppressing his wife. Gilman portrays John as a metaphor for the patriarchal society that refuses to let women have independence and tries to shun them into submission. Through the narrator’s perspective, we can see how John’s actions are influencing not only her but every woman of that time.

John’s character in The Yellow Wallpaper is the embodiment of the oppressive patriarchy that was keeping women down. His lack of empathy for the narrator and his dominating nature is exactly what women were facing in the 19th century. Gilman uses John’s character to show how some men used to perceive women as inferior and incapable of having an independent mind. It was as if they believed that women’s only role was to bear children and take care of their husbands while remaining ignorant of their surroundings.

The Role of Symbolism in Literature

In literature, symbolism is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. Symbolism can be found in various forms such as objects, events, and even characters. Symbolism is an essential part of literature as it helps communicate complex ideas, themes, and emotions without explicitly stating them.

What Does John Symbolize in The Yellow Wallpaper?

In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” John, the narrator’s husband, is a symbolic figure that represents the patriarchal society of the time. John is portrayed as a rational, logical physician who believes that rest and isolation are the best cures for his wife’s mental illness.

John is the embodiment of the societal norms and expectations that confine and suppress women. He represents the rigid gender roles and social structures that prioritize men’s authority and dismiss women’s experiences and emotions. John’s condescending and dismissive treatment of his wife’s illness mirrors the disrespect and marginalization of women’s mental health and autonomy.

Furthermore, John’s presence embodies the idea of surveillance and control. He constantly monitors his wife’s behaviour, dictates her actions, and limits her freedom. His role as a physician and caretaker is feminized, contributing to the idea of women’s dependence on men and their lack of agency. The narrator’s obsession with the wallpaper and her eventual descent into madness represents her resistance to these oppressive forces and her desire for freedom and autonomy.

Understanding the Historical Context of “The Yellow Wallpaper”

When analyzing Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” it’s important to consider the story’s historical context. The late 1800s saw a rise in the feminist movement, and Gilman’s own experiences with the treatment of women’s mental health heavily influenced her writing.

  • In 1887, Gilman was diagnosed with “neurasthenia,” a condition believed to primarily affect women and characterized by fatigue, headaches, and depression. Treatment often involved a “rest cure,” which included bed rest and isolation.
  • “The Yellow Wallpaper” was published in 1892 and was based on Gilman’s own experiences with the rest cure. She believed that the treatment worsened her condition and perpetuated the idea that women were weak and incapable.
  • The story also comments on the ways in which women were confined to traditional domestic roles and not allowed to pursue their own goals and desires.

Through the character of John, the narrator’s husband in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman highlights the patriarchal attitudes of the time and the ways in which men viewed women as inferior and incapable of making their own decisions.

By understanding the historical context of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” readers can gain a deeper appreciation for the story’s themes and messages. It serves as a powerful critique of the oppressive gender norms of the late 1800s, and Gilman’s bold statements continue to resonate with modern-day readers.

Historical Context “The Yellow Wallpaper”
Rise of feminist movement Addresses issues of women’s oppression and confinement to traditional roles
Neurasthenia diagnosis and “rest cure” treatment Inspiration and basis for the story
Patriarchal attitudes towards women Highlighted through the character of John

By examining the historical context of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” readers can better understand the significance of the story and the lasting impact of Gilman’s powerful commentary.

Analysis of John’s Character in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

John, the protagonist’s husband in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a character with a complex personality and serves as an allegory for the societal oppression of women during that era. Here are some insightful analyses:

  • John symbolizes patriarchy: Throughout the story, John assumes an authoritarian role towards the protagonist and enforces the typical gender roles of the Victorian era. He continuously dismisses his wife’s feelings and insists that he knows what is best for her, imposing restrictions and denying her a voice. His character represents the male dominance and societal norms of the time.
  • John embodies the power imbalance in marriage: Although John gives the protagonist the illusion of being cared for, his treatment of her leads to her eventual mental breakdown. He controls her every move, defining her role as a dutiful wife, and asserting his authority over her. This power imbalance reflects the typical marital dynamics seen in the Victorian period, where the husband held all the power and the woman had to adhere to his wishes.
  • John’s character serves as a symbol for condescension: Despite being a doctor, John is unable to diagnose his wife’s illness and insists that her condition is temporary and can be cured through rest and isolation. He disregards her opinions and belittles her feelings, demonstrating the arrogant attitude of many Victorian men towards their wives.

In summary, John’s character in “The Yellow Wallpaper” acts as an allegory for societal oppression of women at the time, embodying the patriarchy, power imbalance within marriage, and condescension that was prevalent during that era.

As readers, we can now reflect on the portrayal of women’s issues in literature and appreciate how Gilman used John’s character as a vehicle to shed light on the gender inequality and misogyny that many women faced in the Victorian era.

Symbolism: Patriarchy, power imbalance, condescension
Role: Protagonist’s husband and physician
Function: Serves as an allegory for societal oppression of women during Victorian period
Importance: Highlights the gender inequality and misogyny prevalent during that time

Understanding John’s character in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is crucial in comprehending the themes and message portrayed in the story. It provides readers with a deeper understanding of the author’s intent and the societal dynamics of the Victorian era.

John’s Perceived Superiority and Its Impact on the Narrator’s Mental State

John, the narrator’s husband, symbolizes the system of male-dominated society during the 1800s. His perceived superiority is a manifestation of patriarchal norms and beliefs that he subscribes to in the story. This notion, whether conscious or not, is the driving force of John’s behavior and decisions.

  • John is dismissive of the narrator’s feelings and opinions. He often disregards her requests and invalidates her experiences. For instance, in the story, John makes the narrator stay in the house and refrain from any mental or physical activity, despite her protestations.
  • John’s superiority complex is supported by his profession as a doctor. He uses his medical degree as a means of crushing any argument or attempt by the narrator to assert her independence or challenge his authority. By portraying John as a doctor, Gilman critiques the tendency of male doctors to patronize and dismiss their female patients.
  • John’s belief in his superiority over his wife is reinforced by societal norms, which dictate that men should have the final say in any decision-making process. This sense of entitlement leads John to act as the sole decision-maker in the narrator’s life, causing her mental state to deteriorate.

The impact of John’s perceived superiority on the narrator’s mental state is evident in the story’s progression. The narrator’s mental state worsens as she is trapped in the house, with no autonomy or control over her life.

Moreover, John’s overbearing behavior mirrors the narrator’s internal conflict between her desire for freedom and her inability to obtain it. The narrator’s mental breakdown can be interpreted as a consequence of John’s constant oppression and the greater societal oppression of women during the time period.

Effects of John’s perceived superiority on the narrator Effects on the reader’s perception of male-dominated society
Causes the narrator’s mental health to deteriorate Critiques patriarchal norms and societal expectations placed upon women
Invalidates the narrator’s experiences and feelings Highlights the tendency of male doctors to dismiss their female patients
Reinforces societal norms that assert male dominance in decision-making Portrays the devastating impact of limiting women’s agency and autonomy

John’s perceived superiority plays a pivotal role in the story, exposing the detrimental effects of patriarchal norms and societal expectations on women’s mental health and well-being.

The influence of gender roles in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a story that explores the effects of gender roles on women’s mental health during the 19th century. John, the narrator’s husband, is the embodiment of the oppressive and controlling nature of traditional gender roles that negatively impact women’s mental well-being.

  • John as the superior figure: John’s role as a physician and the sole breadwinner in the family gives him a sense of power and control over his wife. He disregards her thoughts and feelings and believes that he knows what is best for her.
  • John’s paternalistic attitude: John treats his wife like a child, continually making decisions for her and infantilizing her. This attitude reinforces the societal belief that women are not capable of taking care of themselves.
  • John’s disregard for his wife’s mental health: John’s focus on the physical aspects of his wife’s health is typical of the time when mental illness was not well understood. His lack of concern for her mental well-being and his insistence that she continue to remain in the room with the yellow wallpaper only exacerbate her mental illness.

Overall, John’s character symbolizes the societal expectations placed on women during the 19th century, which were often oppressive and detrimental to their mental and emotional health. His presence serves to highlight the damaging effects gender roles can have on both men and women.

Below is a table that further illustrates the contrasting characteristics of John and the narrator:

John The Narrator
Practical Emotional
Rational Imaginative
Controlling Submissive
Paternalistic Vulnerable

By examining John’s character and his role in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” readers can gain a deeper understanding of the impact gender roles have had on women’s mental health throughout history. Perkins Gilman’s story is a poignant reminder of the importance of breaking down societal expectations and empowering women to take control of their lives and well-being.

The portrayal of mental illness and its treatment in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” depicts a woman’s descent into madness as she is confined to a room with yellow wallpaper. The story highlights the patriarchal medical practices of the time and the harmful effects on women’s mental health.

  • The symbolism of the yellow wallpaper: The yellow wallpaper represents the narrator’s mental state as it gradually deteriorates throughout the story. The wallpaper has a confusing, labyrinthine pattern that seems to shift and change with the light. This creates a sense of disorientation and paranoia within the narrator, mirroring her own confused mental state.
  • The portrayal of mental illness: Throughout the story, mental illness is depicted as something to be feared and suppressed. The narrator’s husband, John, is a physician and acts as her caregiver. However, he dismisses her ideas and isolates her from the outside world, exacerbating her symptoms. The story shows that the medical profession in the late 19th century lacked understanding of mental illness and often treated it as a moral failing rather than a medical condition.
  • The treatment of mental illness: The narrator’s treatment – isolation, confinement, and the “rest” cure – is presented as harmful and ineffective. The rest cure was a prominent treatment for nervous disorders at the time, involving complete rest and inactivity. However, this treatment often worsened the patients’ conditions and was described as “torture” by some women who underwent it.

The story demonstrates the importance of treating mental illness with empathy, understanding, and specialized medical care. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was herself a survivor of postpartum depression and wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a critique of the medical profession’s mistreatment of women’s mental health. Her work remains relevant today, as mental health is still stigmatized and misunderstood in many parts of the world.


Source Description
Perkins Gilman, Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” A short story published in 1892.
Becker, Louise K. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: A Symptomatic Reading.” An academic article analyzing the story from a feminist perspective.
Bennett, Thomas W. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Biography.” A biography of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

John’s relationship with the narrator and its significance

In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” John is the narrator’s husband and physician who prescribes a “rest cure” for her debilitating depression. Throughout the story, John’s relationship with the narrator is complex, and his actions and attitudes towards her have significant implications.

At the beginning of the story, it is clear that John cares for his wife and wants to help her feel better. He is affectionate and attentive, and he tries to minimize her physical and mental exertion. However, as the story progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that John’s approach to his wife’s illness is misguided and harmful.

Here are some ways in which John’s relationship with the narrator is significant:

  • John is a representative of the male-dominated medical establishment that devalues women’s experiences and perspectives.
  • John’s insistence on controlling the narrator’s physical and mental activity reinforces the societal expectation that women should be passive and obedient.
  • Despite his good intentions, John’s condescension and dismissiveness towards his wife exacerbate her emotional distress and contribute to her deteriorating mental state.
John’s actions Impact on the narrator
Forbids her from writing or working Limits the narrator’s creative expression and intellectual stimulation, exacerbating her boredom and frustration.
Insists that her illness is solely physical Invalidates the narrator’s emotional distress, contributing to her sense of isolation and helplessness.
Assumes that he knows what is best for her Shows a lack of empathy and understanding for the narrator’s unique needs and preferences.

In summary, John’s relationship with the narrator plays a major role in the dynamics of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” His actions and attitudes towards her contribute to the story’s themes of gender inequality, societal oppression, and the dehumanizing effects of medical discourse.

The Contrast Between John’s Beliefs and the Narrator’s Reality

Throughout “The Yellow Wallpaper,” John, the narrator’s husband, represents the societal norms and beliefs that the narrator is constantly battling against. However, the contrast between John’s beliefs and the narrator’s reality becomes more apparent as the story unfolds.

  • John’s Beliefs:
    • John believes that the narrator’s illness is purely physical and should be treated with complete rest and minimal stimulation.
    • John is the head of the household and expects the narrator to obey his every rule and direction, even when it goes against her own desires.
    • John believes that the narrator’s interest in writing and creative pursuits is frivolous and should be discouraged.
  • The Narrator’s Reality:
    • The narrator’s illness is mental and requires mental stimulation and activity in order to improve.
    • The narrator wishes to have some control over her own life and treatment, but John dismisses her requests and belittles her opinion.
    • The narrator finds solace and healing in her writing, which serves as a means of expressing herself and finding her own identity.

As a result of these contrasting beliefs and realities, John and the narrator are constantly at odds with each other. John’s insistence on obedience and rest ultimately proves to be harmful to the narrator’s mental state, while the narrator’s desire for autonomy and creative expression is stifled by John’s disapproval and control.

The themes of oppression and confinement, which are prominent throughout the story, are amplified by the contrast between John’s beliefs and the narrator’s reality. The narrator is trapped in a room that symbolizes society’s expectations and limitations, while John is the embodiment of those expectations and limitations.

John’s Beliefs The Narrator’s Reality
Illness is purely physical Illness is mental and requires mental stimulation
Expectation of obedience Desire for autonomy
Discouragement of creative pursuits Find solace in writing and creative expression

The contrast between John’s beliefs and the narrator’s reality highlights the importance of individual autonomy and the dangers of conforming to societal norms without question. It serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of suppressing one’s own desires and needs in order to fit into a prescribed mold.

How the Yellow Wallpaper Functions as a Symbol in the Story

The Yellow Wallpaper, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a story that uses symbolism to explore the themes of oppressive societal norms and the struggle for autonomy. While the protagonist is unnamed, other characters like John, the narrator’s husband, are symbolic in their representation. John symbolizes the patriarchy and oppressive societal norms that have forced women into submissive roles for generations.

  • In the story, John creates a “rest cure” for the narrator, which involves isolating her in a room with ugly yellow wallpaper that she despises. This is symbolic of how women were forced into confined roles in society and were expected to accept their lack of autonomy without protest.
  • Throughout the story, John dismisses the narrator’s feelings and opinions, insisting that he knows what is best for her. This is symbolic of how women were often not listened to or taken seriously in male-dominated societies.
  • When the narrator begins to see a woman in the pattern of the yellow wallpaper, she feels as though the woman is trapped just like her. This symbolizes the idea that women were confined in their roles and were unable to break free from societal expectations.

The yellow wallpaper itself also functions as a symbol in the story. Initially, the narrator despises the wallpaper, describing it as “dull” and “repellent”. However, as the story progresses, the wallpaper becomes a symbol of the narrator’s own struggle for freedom and autonomy.

As she begins to see the woman trapped in the wallpaper, the narrator realizes that she too is trapped in her role as a submissive wife. The woman in the wallpaper also represents the narrator’s own desire to break free from societal expectations. The more the narrator becomes obsessed with the wallpaper, the more she begins to break free from the oppressive force of her husband and society at large.

Symbol Meaning
Yellow Wallpaper Symbolic of the protagonist’s own struggle for freedom and autonomy
Woman in the Wallpaper Symbolic of the protagonist’s own desire to break free from societal expectations
John Symbolic of the patriarchy and oppressive societal norms that have forced women into submissive roles for generations

The Yellow Wallpaper is a powerful story that uses symbolism to explore important themes about the struggles and oppression faced by women in male-dominated societies. Through the use of characters like John and symbols like the yellow wallpaper, the author brings attention to the societal norms and oppressive forces that have kept women from achieving true freedom and autonomy for generations.

The impact of John’s absence on the narrator’s mental state.

John, the narrator’s husband, is a prominent figure in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. His absence from the home for prolonged periods is a significant contributor to the narrator’s declining mental state.

  • Without John’s presence, the narrator has no one to confide in, which further isolates her and exacerbates her feelings of loneliness and despair.
  • John’s absence leads the protagonist to feel neglected, ignored, and abandoned, causing her mental health to deteriorate even further.
  • The narrator becomes paranoid about John’s whereabouts and starts to imagine situations where he could be cheating on her or abandoning her. This paranoia deepens her fear and anxiety, which negatively impacts her mental health.

Without John’s care and support, the protagonist is left to deal with her mental illness on her own, leading to her ultimate mental breakdown.

The table below outlines how John’s absence affects the narrator’s mental state throughout the story:

John’s Absence Impact on Narrator’s Mental State
John is away working during the day The narrator feels lonely and neglected
John goes away for a few days The narrator becomes paranoid and anxious about his whereabouts
John is away for an extended period The narrator’s mental health declines significantly

Overall, John’s absence plays a crucial role in the narrator’s mental state, emphasizing how external factors can impact a person’s well-being and the importance of social support in managing mental illness.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Who is John in “The Yellow Wallpaper”?

John is the narrator’s husband, who is a physician and believes rest and isolation are the only cure to her condition.

2. What does John symbolize in the story?

John symbolizes the societal expectations of the patriarchal society and how they suppress women’s agency and creativity.

3. How does John’s treatment of the narrator contribute to his symbolism?

John’s treatment of the narrator, where he denies her agency and autonomy, reinforces the idea that men are presumed to know what’s best for women and can control them.

4. Does John’s behavior change throughout the story?

No, John’s behavior remains consistent throughout the story, as he continues to deny the narrator’s feelings and agency.

5. Is John a sympathetic character in the story?

It depends on the reader’s interpretation. Some may see him as a caring and well-intentioned husband, while others may view him as an oppressive figure.

6. What is the significance of the yellow wallpaper in relation to John?

The yellow wallpaper represents the oppressive societal expectations that restrict women’s creativity and agency, which is embodied by John’s character.

7. How does John’s role in the story relate to the feminist movement?

John’s role in the story highlights the need for women’s empowerment and agency, which became important themes of the feminist movement.

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