Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"The Yellow Wall Paper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

"The Yellow Wall Paper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892, 24 pages, read via

Charlotte Gilman was a well known (1860 to 1835-born Hartford Connecticut) writer and theorist on women's rights and issues in the second half of the 19th century in the USA.   I confess not only have I never prior to reading the story "The Yellow Wall Paper" read any of her work I had never in fact heard of her.   As perhaps I am not alone in this I will quote from the Wikepedia article on her

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (July 3, 1860 – August 17, 1935) was a prominent Americansociologist, novelist, writer of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and a lecturer for social reform. She was a utopian feminist during a time when her accomplishments were exceptional for women, and she served as a role model for future generations of feminists because of her unorthodox concepts and lifestyle. Her best remembered work today is her semi-autobiographical short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper", which she wrote after a severe bout of post-partum depression.

"The Yellow Wall Paper" is a tale of a woman driven to madness by her loving very well meaning husband's (a physician) treatment of the narrator for post-partum depression.   The  prose is sparse and beautiful and you can feel her descent into madness.   

This is from the very opening part of the story:

John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.

John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.
John is a physician, and PERHAPS--(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)--PERHAPS that is one reason I do not get well faster

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? 

I admit I winced  a bit when I read  "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage."   What is there or was there about marriage in those times (or now) that leads a woman   to accept that her spouse will laugh at her?   John calls her a "silly goose".   He is never harsh, never yells, never strikes her and is in fact very loving, kind and very solicitous.   John's sister takes care of her "There comes John's sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing."

The narrator begins to be obsessed with patterns real and imagined in some very old yellow wall paper that is on the walls in which she comes to be confined.

Her husband begins to seem strange and alien to her.   She begins to have strange visions or hallucinations concerning a woman she sees in the wall paper.

And John is so queer now, that I don't want to irritate him. I wish he would take another room! Besides, I don't want anybody to get that woman out at night but myself.
Things get worse and stranger at this point.  I hope some will take the time to read this beautifully crafted story (it will just take a few minutes) so I will go no further into the plot.

Aarti of Booklust has a very insightful post on this story in which she talks about how this story relates to the issues of the Women Unbound Reading Challenge and the historical development of treatment for women's post birth depressions.   Gilman died from suicide after being diagnosed with incurable breast cancer.


Aarti said...

I am glad you liked this one, Mel! It was very powerful for such a short story, wasn't it? I found it fascinating and also horrifying.

Amy said...

I liked this story a lot. It's so powerful, despite its sparseness and conciseness.

Rebecca Reid said...

I've been wanting to reread this one for some time. Thanks for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

I first read this when I was about 18 and had no idea what the story was about. I have to admit it was abit of a shock at the time. I must re-read this

Mel u said...

Aarti-yes it is a very powerful story for sure

Amy-I agree totally

Rebecca Reid-I will look forward to your thoughts on this work

Chris And Jess-I hope you will post your thoughts upon your rereading of this story

Anonymous said...

I read this in my American Lit class last semester (I'd never heard of the author either). I found it...disturbing. The writing, however, was fantastic. Gilman really does a great job of showing the mind's descent into insanity.

Teddy Rose said...

I'm glad we can agree that this is a very good story. I look forward to reading more by her.

Teddy Rose said...

Op's I forgot to tell you that I put your link in my review.