Early in the story, the narrator says "john laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage." What comment does this make about the role of the women in marriage? What gender assumption does it establish? Over time, how could it make the narrator or any person feel?
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Throughout the story, Gilman presents the domestic sphere as a prison for the narrator. Just as the woman in the wallpaper is trapped behind a symbol of the feminine domestic sphere, the narrator is trapped within the prison-like nursery. The nursery is itself a symbol of the narrator’s oppression as a constant reminder of her duty to clean the house and take care of the children. The numerous barred windows and immovable bed also suggest a more malignant use for the nursery in the past, perhaps as a room used to house an insane person. The narrator's sense of being watched by the wallpaper accentuates the idea of the room as a surveillance-friendly prison cell.
John’s treatment of the narrator perpetuates this sense of the domestic sphere as a prison. As a practical doctor, John automatically patronizes his imaginative, literary wife. He views her writing as unimportant, rarely takes her anxieties seriously, and constantly refers to her with the diminutive “little.” The narrator has no option of escaping her role as a wife and mother; John is unable to perceive her as anything more than that. However, the narrator is imprisoned even further because Jennie and Mary assume her identity as wife and mother; the narrator has no identity left to her because even the ones provided by the society have been taken from her. Unlike the narrator, Mary and Jennie do not have any aspirations beyond the prison of the domestic sphere and thus, they do not recognize it as a prison at all.