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Influence of Emerson’s Self-Reliance on Gilman’s Yellow Wall-Paper

Influence of Emerson’s Self-Reliance on Gilman’s Yellow Wall-Paper

The great writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string" (p. 1033). How surprised he would be to find out that a half century later this type of idea would culminate in a growing restlessness among American women unsatisfied with their lives and with their roles in society - a society dominated by men with little or no place for women outside the home. One of these female writers who helped lead the battle for domestic and social reform was Charlotte Perkins Gilman. One of her more particularly forceful works is "The Yellow Wall-Paper," meant to highlight the submissive and highly undervalued role women play in marriages at the time. Through this work, Gilman expressed her inner frustrations with the servitude women had to endure in their marriages during that time period, and she advocated her own brand of Emersonian non-conformity for women. By taking such a profoundly dismal outlook on married life, Gilman hoped to inspire other women to seek new roles not only in the domestic, but also public, arena. "The Yellow Wall-Paper" represents to a large degree what the feminist movement of the late 19th century was about, and by analyzing both the story and context of its creation, it becomes apparent the type of interpretation Gilman made of Emerson's work "Self-Reliance."

Although "The Yellow Wall-Paper" focuses on a wife's sudden decline into madness, the story brings forth a very important issue - that of women's roles not only in domestic life, but in society as well. It becomes abundantly apparent even from the first few lines of the story that the wife's views concern her place in the marr...

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..." written nearly half a century earlier, but wished to apply it to women in order to achieve a similar greatness through liberation. Evidently, both authors have achieved their goals and have become literary founders of a new American image created during the 19th century, but transcending the boundaries of time even today.

Works Cited and Consulted

Boller, Paul. American Transcendentalism. New York: Capricorn Books, 1974.

Emerson, Ralph. Self-Reliance. Ed. George McMichael. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1985.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. New York: Feminist Press, 1973.

------. The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography. New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1935.

Kasmer, Lisa. "Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper': A Symptomatic Reading." Literature and Psychology. 36, (1990): 1-15.
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