Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a deceptively simple story. It is easy to follow the thirteen pages of narrative and conclude the protagonist as insane. This is a fair judgement, after all no healthy minded individual becomes so caught up with "hideous" and "infuriating" wallpaper to lose sleep over it, much less lock herself in a room to tear the wallpaper down. To be able to imagine such things as "broken necks" and "bulbous eyes" in the wallpaper is understandable, irrational and erratic designs can form rational patterns in our minds, but to see a woman locked inside of the "bars" of the wallpaper and attempt to rescue her seems altogether crazy. Her fascination with the wallpaper does seem odd to us, but it easy to focus on the eccentricity of her interest with paper and lose sight of what the wallpaper institutes: her writing. It is her writing that keeps her sane, the wallpaper that makes her insane, and from these two very symbolic poles the short story rotates. Gilman's short story is not simply about a lonely woman's descent into madness, but is symbolic of previous and contemporary women writer's attempt to overcome the "madness" and bias of the established, male dominated literary society that surrounds them.
From the very beginning of the narrator's vacation, the surroundings seem not right. There is "something queer" about the mansion where she resides it becomes obvious that her attempt to rest from her untold illness will not follow as planned. The house is an "ancestral" and "hereditary estate...long untenanted" invoking fanciful gothic images of a "haunted house" (3). The house they choose to reside in for the three...
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... "The Yellow Wallpaper" is not simply a story of a woman whose imagination drives her insane, it is a symbolic story of the woman writer who wishes to free herself from the conventions of the male dominated literary world. Gilman's proposes that women can achieve such status that they deserve, but that they must first acknowledge and see truthfully the "madness" surroundings, the tenets created by men, and become driven by the "madness" to overcome it. It is not impossible, but an uphill battle won by many others. Charlotte Perkins Gilman is proof of this: her work is wholly a part of the literary canon, among the best of her male peers.
Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't
Perkins, Charlotte Perkins. The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader. Editor Ann J. Lane. New York: Pantheon, 1980.
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