Moving Beyond Motherhood in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Moving Beyond Motherhood in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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     Since its original publication in The New England Magazine in May 1892 and its subsequent resurrection by modern feminists in the l970's, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's novella, "The Yellow Wallpaper" has gone through varied interpretations. When it was originally written, "The Yellow Wallpaper" was considered a tale of horror, so horrible in fact, that one editor, Horace Scudder of the Atlantic Monthly, refused the work because he did not want to make others as miserable as he was when he read it. Even as late as 1971, Gilman's work was anthologized under the category of horror (Kennard 75).

It was not until the work was rediscovered and republished in 1973 that modern feminist critics recognized the female hero as a victim of society (Kennard 75). However, "The Yellow Wallpaper" is more than a story with a fictional character; it is the story of its creator. Gilman, as well as her heroine, suffered through postpartum depression. She not only had to fight the depression and isolation of being a mother but also the social mores of the time which did not condone career-minded mothers. Society's prime guardians of the status quo in this instance were the medical doctors who found it necessary to treat women who were less than happy in their domestic roles. In her case, the treatment was administered by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell for whom Gilman stated she wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper" (The Living of CPG 121). Gilman recognized that she needed to escape the confinement of the home before she could become a career woman who also happened to be a mother. It was through "The Yellow Wallpaper" that the transition from homebound mother to career mother began.

The feelings she experienced as a new mother were not unlike those of ma...


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...Gilman: An Autobiography. New York and London: D. Appleton-Century Co. (1935)

 Rpt. As The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. New York: Harper & Row, Colophon Books, 1975.

---. "Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper". Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Study of the Short Fiction. Ed. Denise D Knight. New York, Twayne Publishers, 1997. 106-107.

Hill, Mary A. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Making of a Radical Feminist, 1860-1896. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1980.

Kennard, Jean E. "Convention Coverage or How to Read Your Own Life." New Literary History 13 (Autumn 1981): 69-88.

Palis, James., et al. "The Hippocratic Concept of Hysteria: A Translation of the Original Texts." Integrative Psychiatry 3.3 (1985): 226-228.

Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll "The Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in 19th-Century America," Social Research 39 (Winter 1972): 652-78

 

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