The Yellow Wallpaper

What, if anything, do they suggest about women's roles at the time the story was written?

Several times at the beginning of the yellow wallpaper, the narrarator says such things as "what is one to do?" "What can one do?"

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According to the social norms of the time period, women in the 19th century were expected to fulfill their duties as wives and mothers and be content in their existence as nothing more. Men and women were divided between the public and private sphere, and women were doomed to spend their lives solely in the domestic sphere. Not coincidentally, women who dared to enter the masculine public realm were viewed as something akin to prostitutes, the lowest level of society.

With that in mind, although John could be seen as the domineering villain of the story, he is simply a reflection of his society. The narrator’s desire to have more in her life than John and her child does not correspond to social expectations. Moreover, her love of writing and creativity further distinguishes her from the idealized “angel of the house” that she is supposed to emulate. Gilman herself rebelled against these social expectations and, by leaving her first husband and moving to California to write, was not deemed fit to belong in respectable society.