When asked the question of why she chose to write 'The Yellow Wallpaper', Charlotte Perkins Gilman claimed that experiences in her own life dealing with a nervous condition, then termed 'melancholia', had prompted her to write the short story as a means to try and save other people from a similar fate. Although she may have suffered from a similar condition to the narrator of her illuminating short story, Gilman's story cannot be coined merely a tale of insanity. Insanity is the vehicle for Gilman's larger comment on the atrocities of social conformity. The main character of "The Yellow Wallpaper" comes to recognize the inhumanity in society's treatment of women, and in her awakening to this, visualizes her torment in the faded yellow wallpaper that hangs in her chambers, her jail. The unnamed narrator of the tale is purposefully left unnamed; the narrator could be any wife, any mother, any woman. Gilman transforms the hysterical, insane female of early 19th century literature into genius.
The first striking image that readers of "The Yellow Wallpaper" are presented with is not that of a room, it is not of the house, but of the character of John, the husband. John is described as a man of a "practical and extreme" nature (246). His presence throughout the tale provides for the narrator's motive. John refuses to accept her wife's condition; he does not believe that there is anything truly wrong with her.
If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression, a slight hysterical tendency - what is one to do? (246)
The narrator is possessed by her hus...
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...ion. Sven Birkerts. Boston, Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon, 1992. 387-400.
Haney-Peritz, Janice. "Monumental Feminism and Literature's Ancestral House: Another Look at 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'" Women's Studies 12 (1986): 113-128.
Johnson, Greg. "Gilman's Gothic Allegory: Rage and Redemption in 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'" Studies in Short Fiction 26 (Fall 1989): 521-530.
King, Jeanette, and Pam Morris. "On Not Reading Between the Lines: Models of Reading in 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'" Studies in Short Fiction 26.1 (Winter 1989): 23-32.
Knight, Denise D. "The Reincarnation of Jane: 'Through This' - Gilman's Companion to 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'" Women's Studies 20 (1992): 287-302.
Rigney, Barbara Hill. Madness and Sexual Politics in the Feminist Novel: Studies in Bronte, Woolf, Lessing, and Atwood. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.
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