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There are two major metaphors in “The Yellow Wallpaper” that lend themselves to a feminist interpretation. The first, and most obvious metaphor, is that of the yellow wallpaper itself, which can be seen as representing the oppression of women by male dominated society. This is revealed by the irrational and inconstant pattern of the wallpaper, which is symbolic of the lack of logical thought behind the male oppression of women. Further, in the story the wallpaper seems to take on a life force of its own and is responsible for the loss of the narrator’s freedom and sanity. Although it can be argued that it is her lack of physical and mental exercise that leads to her final mental state, it is the wallpaper which is used as a symbol of this degradation. Her imprisonment with the wallpaper is in a nursery, typical of the seclusion forced on the female patient that has been called “...a treatment designed to infantilize the patient so that she acknowledged the paternal authority of the doctor” (Bauer, 131). Gilman’s use of a nursery dramatizes this infantilization at the hands of men.
The second major metaphor of the story follows logically from the first. The woman hiding behind the paper comes to represent not only the trapped soul of the narrator but also the abused souls of women in American society. Considering that the wallpaper itself is representative of male domination over women, it is fitting that the woman should be trapped in the wallpaper. There is an ambiguity to the woman that is illustrated when the narrator contemplates “Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one...” (Gilman, 55). Perchance she is acknowledging that sometimes she fears she is trapped alone, and maybe even trapped by other women, and sometimes she thinks that there are others suffering with her.