Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper

1288 words - 6 pages

It rarely occurs in long, full-volume books but rather in short few-page stories – instead of reading about characters and their experiences, I only notice an author behind the words. I can clearly see how he or she nurtures a certain idea or discussion topic, then transfers it on a literary personage and creates a matching setting to emphasize the main point with the right amount of conflict. But it just does not work! And Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a perfect example of how writer’s attempt to ignore her reader’s power of thoughtfulness completely fails.
The story begins with the nameless female narrator describing her current mental problems and her doctor husband’s decision to treat her with a “rest cure” – now she moves to another room and does not leave it, having nothing to do but to write this diary. Her sentences are overflowed with “but’s” and multiple references to the patriarchal system of that day’s society. From the very first page the author throws in “wrong” marriage associations (“John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” (Gilman 589)), focuses on the heroine’s helplessness (“You see he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do?” (Gilman 589)), suspects some great male conspiracy (“My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing” (Gilman 589)) and defines “wrong” female interests (“So I will let it alone and talk about the house” (Gilman 589)). Those are not even little hints, but huge light-bulb signs attacking the reader!
Unfortunately, such passion will not be rewarded, at least with me, as the story itself does not imply Gilman’s own conclusions. For example, the narrator’s husband John is supposed to look like a misogynistic villain in our eyes for laughing at her trouble and sending her to that version of prison. But is it so? The heroine herself admits, that she does not see any point in telling John about her health issues, so there should not be any reason why he would consider her sick. With her background history we could assume, that she is suffering from postpartum depression after giving birth to her baby, so again, psychological disorder is not something a physician (including her brother) would define as real illness, especially in the times of Gilman. But letting his wife to take a couple of months off and let her sleep and rest – why not? Would she like to deal with a crying baby or social routs now?
Later we find another reason to not to trust the narrator’s words: she becomes obsessed with a woman behind the yellow wallpaper. At first she just want to pile it off, so disturbing and frightening she finds it (“The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight” (Gilman 590)), then she feels a strange odor coming from it and after notices some moving and changes of its front pattern, all of which she accounts for this strange woman, who is crawling and...

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