Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" has been viewed as either a work of supernatural horror or as a feminist treatise regarding the role of women in society. A close analysis of Gilman's use of symbols reveals "The Yellow Wallpaper" as her response to the male view of hysteria from ancient times through the nineteenth century. " In "The Yellow Wallpaper" Gilman questions the validity of Hippocrates's theory of the wandering uterus and Weir Mitchell's "rest cure". As she wrote in her essay "Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper?", "[the story] was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy…" (107). By her own account, Gilman's purpose in writing "The Yellow Wallpaper" was to educate and inform the public of the misinterpretation of hysterical symptoms.
The origin of the word hysteria expresses the belief in the inferiority of women. As James Palis writes in The Hippocratic Concept of Hysteria: A Translation of the Original Texts: "Etymologically, the term usteria (hysteria) derives from ustera (hystera), the Greek word for uterus, which means an inferior position. Thus, usteria denotes suffering of the uterus, the most inferior organ in the female" (226). The fact that the literal translation of hystera is "inferior position" reinforces the fact that from ancient times women were viewed as physically inferior to men.
Since the one major physical difference between women and men is the presence of the uterus, psychological problems that were considered to be strictly female were attributed to some malfunction of the uterus. Hippocrates first proposed in his work "The Art of Healing"that hysteria wa...
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---. "The Yellow Wallpaper". American Realism Reader. Ed. James Nagel and Tom Quirk. New York: Penguin Books, 1997. 254-269.
Hothersall, David. History of Psychology. 3rd Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1995.
Meyer, Cheryl L. The Wandering Uterus: Politics and the Reproductive Rights of Women. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
Mitchell, S. Weir. "Fat and Blood": The Yellow Wallpaper. Women Writers: Texts and Contexts. Ed. Thomas L. Erskine and Connie L. Richards. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1993. 105-109.
---. "Wear and Tear". The Yellow Wallpaper. Women Writers: Texts and Contexts. Ed. Thomas L Erksine and Connie L. Richards. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1993. 109-111.
Palis, James., et al. "The Hippocratic Concept of Hysteria: A Translation of the Original Texts." Integrative Psychiatry 3.3 (1985): 226-228.
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