In January of 1892, author Charlotte Perkins Gilman published her short story, “The Yellow Wall-paper” in The New England Magazine. Gilman’s work illustrates the public perception of woman’s health in the 19th century and is considered to be an important part of early American feminist literature. During the 19th century women were confined to the idea of the “ideal” woman and the “domestic sphere.” According to Barbara Welter, in her 1966 paper entitled “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860,” an ideal woman embodied piety, domesticity, pureness and submissive. Women would find true happiness in taking care of their families and living a simple and uncomplicated life. “The Yellow Wall-paper” follows the mental deterioration of the female narrator, who recently gave birth. She has been advised to relax, eat healthy and exercise so her health will improve. Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-paper” exposed the danger the antiquated belief had on women in the 19th century. Gilman’s use of the yellow wallpaper illustrates a physical manifestation of the narrators decent into madness as she follows her husband’s and doctor’s advise to rest.
The opening of the short story follows the female narrator being told she needs to rest to recover her health after recently giving birth. She notes, “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?” (87). The unchallenged belief that the patriarchal society was correct in prescribing healthy food, plenty of exercise and air to overcome “slight hysterical [tendencies]” was a common diagnosis to w...
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...ly faints in shock. Even her husbands fainting has no apparent effect upon the narrator as she simply steps over him as she continues to circle the room.
I chose Gilman’s “They Yellow Wallpaper” for my creative project because of the physical representation the yellow wallpaper has on the mental decline of women’s health during the 19th century. When I first read this piece I was a junior in high school. I did not fully understand the harm and the full ramifications the 19th century beliefs had on women’s health. Now, reading the same story, almost ten years later, I can understand the mental decline the narrator experienced while following the doctor’s orders. By using the yellow wallpaper as a physical representation of the mental decline of the narrator, the audience is able to better see the mental anguish. As the wallpaper deteriorates, so too does the narrator.
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