Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper

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It rarely occurs in long, full-volume books but rather in short few-page stories – instead of reading about characters and their experiences, I only notice an author behind the words. I can clearly see how he or she nurtures a certain idea or discussion topic, then transfers it on a literary personage and creates a matching setting to emphasize the main point with the right amount of conflict. But it just does not work! And Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a perfect example of how writer’s attempt to ignore her reader’s power of thoughtfulness completely fails.

The story begins with the nameless female narrator describing her current mental problems and her doctor husband’s decision to treat her with a “rest cure” – now she moves to another room and does not leave it, having nothing to do but to write this diary. Her sentences are overflowed with “but’s” and multiple references to the patriarchal system of that day’s society. From the very first page the author throws in “wrong” marriage associations (“John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” (Gilman 589)), focuses on the heroine’s helplessness (“You see he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do?” (Gilman 589)), suspects some great male conspiracy (“My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing” (Gilman 589)) and defines “wrong” female interests (“So I will let it alone and talk about the house” (Gilman 589)). Those are not even little hints, but huge light-bulb signs attacking the reader!

Unfortunately, such passion will not be rewarded, at least with me, as the story itself does not imply Gilman’s own conclusions. For example, the narrator’s husband John is supposed to look like a...

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...otice his habits before?”, I kept asking while reading the first pages. If we go back in the past and see the whole story considering the social norms of the 19th century, when Gilman lived, then the heroine is not one to blame and can be forgiven for as she could not have any choice, but her husband’s behavior is totally normal and appropriate too, as that is how genders were supposed to act at those times. Gilman is trying to persuade us, that her main character is an innocent victim of evil patriarchal forces, but in fact is acting like a naïve little girl wanting to get both delicious cake and fit body. And like in the real world, nothing came of this idea in “The Yellow Wallpeper” either.

Works Cited

“The Yellow Wallpaper.” Short Stories for Students. Ed. Kathleen Wilson. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1997. 277-293. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 26 Nov. 2015.
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