The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

YThe Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

(about 6000 words)

A young woman who is in poor health as judged by her husband and brother, both physicians, is taken to rest at a country house. Once instated there, she’s told that she shouldn’t go out, or move much, or eat much or in general do too much that would cause her excitement, for fear that it would upset her delicate lady constitution and throw her into a mad fit the likes of which men of this time are always trying to prevent, presumably because they all don’t know a damn thing about how women work. Not unlike today, actually. Anyway, she takes this as the way of the world and more or less remains trapped in a single room for so long that she starts going loopy in the head, seeing things that aren’t there on the yellow wallpaper. Soon, her stifled mind begins imagining all sorts of strange, horrific scenarios that have taken place in the room she occupies. This of course leads her husband to think her condition is worsening, and he confines her even more, until at last she giddily escapes, assuming the identity of the woman she’s imagined this whole time has been staring at her through the yellow wallpaper. Cabin fever guys, it’s serious business.

Charlotte_Perkins_Gilman_by_Frances_Benjamin_JohnstonCharlotte Perkins Gilman was born on July 3, 1860 in Connecticut, USA. Like Poe, Gilman’s father abandoned the family when she was still a baby. Unable to support the family, Gilman’s mother often received help from some of her paternal aunts, among which was Harriot Breecher Stowe. Gilman was forced to teach herself to read at the age of five, since her mother was too ill to see to her schooling herself. Her mother discouraged the reading of fiction and deep friendships in a misguided attempt to protect her children from the sort of hurt her husband’s abandonment had left with her. Fortunately Gilman’s father wasn’t a complete deadbeat, and he did support her continued education as well as advancing her mind with book recommendations. Gilman married when she was 24, and after the birth of her only child, suffered a severe bout of postpartum depression. This largely became the inspiration for The Yellow Wallpaper. She separated from her husband four years later and joined several feminist movements in California. During this time she also sent her daughter east to live with her husband and his second wife, acknowledging his right to know his daughter and visa versa. Perhaps her own experiences with an absent father helped shape this progressive view. When she moved back east she became romantically involved with her first cousin, and the two were happily married until he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. Gilman herself was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer in 1932, and three years later, ended her life on her own terms.

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