Gothic and Feminist Elements of The Yellow Wallpaper

Powerful Essays
Gothic and Feminist Elements of The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" has been interpreted in many ways over the years. Modernist critics have applied depth psychology to the story and written about the symbolism of sexual repression in the nursery bars, the chained-down bed, and the wallpaper. Genre critics have discussed the story as an example of supernatural gothic fiction, in which a ghost actually haunts the narrator. But most importantly, feminist critics (re)discovered the story in the 1970s and interpreted it as a critique of a society that subjugated women into the role of wife and mother and repressed them so much that all they could ever hope to be was an "angel in the house."

Keeping in mind that "The Yellow Wallpaper" can be - and most often is - interpreted as a feminist text in this way, we must also recognize that it holds its own in the Gothic genre. In fact, Eugenia Delamotte claims that "women who just can't seem to get out of the house [are] the most basic subject of Gothic plots" (207). The Gothic has always been and still is a genre that picks up on the concerns of its day. In the same way that postmodern Gothic (Don DeLillo and John Crowley, for example) concerns itself with late twentieth century technological issues, Gilman's Gothic of a century ago was very concerned with the plight of women in American society. When we recognize "The Yellow Wallpaper" as both a feminist treatise and a Gothic text, we can begin drawing conclusions that might not be obvious had we overlooked this dual nature of the story.

Gilman's narrator - who appears to be suffering from postpartum depression - has been diagnosed by several male physicians, including her husband, and...

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... Gothic and feminist. It is both classically Gothic and an expression of the position Gilman would like to see women achieve in society. This duality is quite powerful. The Gothic trope of concealed objects is what enabled Gilman to best express her feminist views on the status of women in her suffocating society. Her nameless narrator is representative of all American women who have lost their identity to oppressive and unfulfilling domestic roles.

Works Cited

Delamotte, Eugenia C. "Male and Female Mysteries in 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'" Legacy. 5.1 (1988): 3-14. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Paula Kepos. 37. Detroit: Gale, 1991.

Golden, Catherine. "The Writing of 'The Yellow Wallpaper': A Double Palimpest." Studies in American Fiction. 17.2 (1989): 193-201. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. David Segal. 13. Detroit: Gale, 1993
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