The Oppression of Women Exposed in The Yellow Wallpaper
Charlotte Perkins Gilman is remembered today principally for her feminist work "The Yellow Wallpaper." It dramatizes her life and her experience with Dr. S. Weir Mitchell's now infamous "rest cure." Commonly prescribed for women suffering from "hysteria," the rest cure altogether forbade company, art, writing, or any other form of intellectual stimulation. When Mitchell prescribed this for Gilman, he told her to "'live a domestic life as far as possible,' to 'have but two hours' intellectual life a day,' and 'never to touch pen, brush or pencil again' as long as I lived" ("Why I Wrote . . . n.p.). It nearly drove her insane. She began to recover only when she returned to her art and writing, and subsequently wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper" to alert others to the perils of the rest cure and its attempt to stifle creativity. It raises the question, stated by Conrad Shumaker, "What happens to the imagination when it's defined as feminine
(and thus weak) and has to face a society that values the useful and the practical and rejects anything else as nonsense?" (590). The answer provided by Gilman is that it becomes uncontrollable and has the potential to destroy a person's sanity.
In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator suffers from postpartum depression, diagnosed by her husband John as "hysteria." He recommends the rest cure for her and arranges for them to spend the summer in a country mansion. Although his wife wants to take a downstairs room which opens out into the garden, John forces her to live upstairs in a nursery with barred windows and hideous yellow wallpaper. She is not permitted to write, except for a journal which she keeps surreptitiously, an...
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...William Day, and Sandra Waller. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1997. 299-312.
"Why I Wrote 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'" The Forerunner October 1913: n.p.
Golden, Catherine. "The Writing of 'The Yellow Wallpaper': A Double Palimpsest." Studies in American Fiction 17 (1989): 198-201.
Johnson, Greg. "Gilman's Gothic Allegory: Rage and Redemption in 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'" Studies in Short Fiction 26 (1989): 521-30.
Kasmer, Lisa "Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper': A Symptomatic Reading." Literature and Psychology 36.3 (1990): 1-15.
MacPike, Loralee. "Environment as Psychopathological Symbolism in 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'" American Literary Realism 8 (1975): 286-88.
Shumaker, Conrad. "Too Terribly Good to be Printed: Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'" American Literature 57 (1985): 588-99.