Gilman, Charlotte Perkins
|Genre||Short Story (25 pp.)|
|Keywords||Children, Chronic Illness/Chronic Disease, Depression, Disease and Health, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Family Relationships, Freedom, Hysteria, Illness and the Family, Individuality, Loneliness, Marital Discord, Mental Illness, Obsession, Ordinary Life, Parenthood, Patient Experience, Power Relations, Psychosomatic Medicine, Sexuality, Society, Suffering, Women's Health|
This is a vivid, partly autobiographical tale of clinical depression and the struggle for selfhood, written by an early feminist. The story is told by means of a journal which the narrator secretly keeps against the orders of her physician-husband, who believes this intellectual effort is contributing to his wife-patient's nervous condition. The narrator, a new mother, has been brought to a country house for a "rest-cure" by her husband; he selects for her the room with the yellow wallpaper, the (former) nursery, where the "windows are barred for little children" and the bed has been nailed to the floor.
Forbidden to write and think, prescribed for and infantilized, the narrator becomes increasingly dysfunctional. She obsesses about the yellow wallpaper, in which she sees frightful patterns and an imprisoned female figure trying to emerge. The narrator finally "escapes" from her controlling husband and the intolerable confines of her existence by a final descent into insanity as she peels the wallpaper off and bars her husband from the room.
First published in 1892, the story is remarkable even now for its depiction of the downward spiral of depression, loss of control and competence, feelings of worthlessness, leading to greater depression and further dysfunction. Also brought to the fore are considerations of how male physicians may treat their female patients, and of the complexity which can ensue when physicians treat their own family members. An excellent biography of Gilman shows clearly the parallel between Gilman's own experiences and those of "The Yellow Wallpaper's" protagonist ("To Herland and Beyond", by Ann J. Lane, Meridian, Penguin, New York, 1991).
Try pairing this story with "The Reading," a painting by Thomas Wilmer Dewing. The painting shows two women sitting at a table in the corner of an enclosed room, languidly looking at a book on the table. The painting "invit[es] the viewer to meditate on two enervated women confined in a lovely but claustrophobic domestic sanctuary and lost in thoughts evoked by the text" (Metropolitan Museum of art catalogue, "American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765-1915, editors H. Barbara Weinberg and Carrie Rebora Barratt, Yale University Press, 2009, p. 139).
|Source||The Yellow Wallpaper|
|Publisher||The Feminist Press at the City Univ. of New York|
|Place Published||New York|
|Miscellaneous||First published: 1892|
|Annotated by||Aull, Felice|
|Date of Entry||12/23/93|