The Yellow Wallpaper In The Context Of Emerson’s Self Reliance

1288 words - 5 pages

Against a backdrop of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance we impose in the fore-ground a contemporary story entitled The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, both written in the last half of the nineteenth century: a responsive interpretation.

 An allegory of several dimensions, Gilman presents a message, in the sublime, that the peculiarities and attributes of women collectively are subsequently imposed on women individually. Therefore, as an individual Gilman’s character is being treated by her physician-husband as an hysteric personality with no real cause for her illness. “You see, he does not believe that I am sick! And what can one do?” (Gilman, 1771) Perhaps the allegory represents a writing of personal struggle with the constraints of a psychologically abusive husband and her own biological depression. Instead of viewing Gilman as marginally insane, as both the writer and the character, she becomes verily ingenious. Her brilliance is expressed in the transfer of her characteristics by personifying the wallpaper. As wallpaper usually hides an unsightly wall, the wallpaper in Gilman’s story conceals and then reveals sordid personal circumstances.


Idealistically, Gilman has, it seems, many of the same literary foundations characteristic of Emerson. As an illustration: “To be great is to be misunderstood.” (Emerson, 616) Gilman’s character is profoundly misunderstood. Contrary to the husband’s assessment of his wife’s illness, she was rather great in her willful approach to reconcile her illness. Gilman is writing from a personal experience undoubtedly originating from, or at least eventually pertinent to, being psychologically misunderstood by her relatives and yet notable in the sense of having the wherewithal to discern the true hidden agenda of her so-called captor--i.e. her husband. The Yellow Wallpaper reveals a tale of a woman who is depressed, and whose husband exploits her by feigning protection and love for her by over-medicating and “enforced bedrest and isolation.” “( Gilman, foot note, 1775) This cruel treatment causes Gilman’s character to slip deeper into psychotic dysfunction, but all the while she manages to maintain a relative level of sanity, by creating a mirror image of herself with the wallpaper. She is greatly misunderstood by everyone around her. Superbly keen and sly in surmising her husband’s behavior in all of this, still the reader remains uncertain of her stability. In further examination the character Gilman has created is even exhibiting signs of genius--at least by Emerson’s standards.


 “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart, is true for all men,--that is genius.” (Emerson, 611) Gilman’s character knows that she must continue writing down her thoughts, perhaps to keep them straight in her mind through all the confusion she was experiencing. An example of this: “ [I] am absolutely forbidden to ‘work’ until I...

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