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The Yellow Wallpaper By Charlotte Perkins Gilman

1376 words - 6 pages

Her Psychology of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Since its publication in New England Magazine in 1891, The Yellow Wallpaper has been
one of the most contested and most analyzed pieces of literature. Literary critics have looked at
the piece from many different perspectives including feminist and anti-feminist perspectives,
psychological perspectives, and even perspectives looking at The Yellow Wallpaper as a science-
fiction piece. Many analysts have even claimed that the work’s narrator is a direct reflection of
Charlotte Perkins Gilman and her political view on psychology of the time. However, most
frequently, there have been two major critical psychological perspectives: psychology from a
literary perspective, which tends to blame the illness of the narrator on the patriarchy of society;
and psychology from a physician’s perspective, which looks at legitimate medical causes for the
depression that the narrator suffers from. What these analyses of The Yellow Wallpaper lack is a
balance that accepts both social and biological causes for the narrator’s insanity.
In order to better one’s understanding of The Yellow Wallpaper , one must first
understand the life of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in Hartford,
Connecticut in 1860. Gilman’s father left her mother shortly after Charlotte was born. Gilman
was related to some of the most influential women of the time including Harriet Beecher Stowe,
the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin . Charlotte attended Rhode Island School of Design for a time
before moving on to work as a commercial artist and a teacher. She married a fellow artist
named Charles Stetson in 1884 and they had a daughter the following year. She fell into a deep
depression after her daughter was born—a depression that many have supposed to be
postpartum depression, but was formally diagnosed as neurasthenia. After suffering for some
time, Gilman sought out Doctor S. Weir Mitchell for medical treatment. S. Weir Mitchell was
one of the leading psychiatric doctors of the time, specializing in nervous and hysterical habits of
women. Mitchell prescribed to her the rest cure in which Gilman was directed to “lives as
domestic a life as far as possible,” to “have but two hours’ intellectual life a day,” and to “never
Fellows 2
touch pen, brush or pencil as long as [she] lived” (Why I Wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper”). She
followed the rest cure diligently for a number of months without satisfactory results before
deciding to abandon it. She later decided that her marriage was not helping her mental health
and she left her husband to go live in California with her daughter, where she was involved in
many feminist groups. This is where she began her career as a writer and an activist for women.
Although she is very famous for her works as a writer, more of Gilman’s energy was focused on
being an activist and lecturer on her own feminist theories. Gilman returned to the east just
before the...

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