Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. An analysis

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman grew up to suffer from depression, but she also spent the later part of her life lecturing, writing and teaching of the importance of economic independence for women. The example established by her great-aunts and her mother surely influenced Gilman's ideas. In , Charlotte married Walker Stetson, an artist.


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She tried to submit to the traditional roles of a nineteenth century wife. When her daughter was born a year later, Charlotte suffered from what we now call severe postpartum depression, which lasted almost four years. She was treated by a famous Philadelphia nerve specialist, Dr. Weir Mitchell, who prescribed a "rest cure" for Gilman's "nervous condition" that forced her into inactivity with no physical or mental stimulation until she recovered.

She said of herself, "I went home and obeyed these directions for some three months and came so near the border of utter mental ruin that I could see over". Mitchell's advice, left her husband and moved to Pasadena, California. A few years later, Walter married Charlotte's best friend and Katherine, Charlotte and Walter's daughter, was sent to live with them. Remarkably, the three remained friends. For the next five years, Gilman traveled and began to rethink attitudes and assumptions about women in society.

She wrote her most famous work, Women and Economics, in She gave lectures about women's issues, started a magazine, The Forerunner, and began publishing poems and articles. Weir Mitchell himself to change his treatment for similar cases. In , Charlotte married George Houghton Gilman and lived happily with him until his death in At the age of 72, Gilman was diagnosed with cancer.

She continued writing for a few more years, finishing her autobiography. On August 17, , when the pain of the disease began to prevent her from working, Gilman committed suicide.

She left a farewell note for her family, ". I have preferred chloroform to cancer". The story clearly dramatizes Gilman's own struggle with depression, writing, and living in a male-dominated society. Charlotte Perkins Gilman actually had difficulty publishing the story.

Submitted first to William Dean Howells and later passed on to Horace Scudder, editor of The Atlantic Monthly, the story was rejected because of its melancholy nature. One point for student discussion might be whether Mr. Scudder would have also rejected one of Edgar Allan Poe's stories for the same reason. Gilman's story was finally published in in The New England Magazine.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper: Summary & Analysis

During the nineteenth century in America, the nation was moving toward a more consumer-oriented society. With the Industrial Revolution and the end of the Civil War, society changed, and money became increasingly important. While what is known as the Gilded Age brought more women into the workforce, few women actually supported themselves. Young women who were working were often expected to turn their wages over to their parents, and wives were expected to turn wages over to their husbands.

Women who were not in the workforce were burdened with domestic duties. Neither marriage nor work really loosened the boundaries placed on women; each situation simply offered a different set of rules. Nineteenth century doctors accepted the idea that a woman's energy was centered around her reproductive organs. When a woman suffered a medical problem, doctors often diagnosed the problem as a problem with channeling energy.

Since reproductivity was central to a nineteenth century wife's life, doctors often concluded that a "sick" woman was out of sync with her reproductive organs. In addition, upper class women made ideal patients. Their husband's bank accounts ". He often required patients to stay in bed for six to eight weeks. Most female patients were forbidden to sit up, sew, write, or read. In the case of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and in the case of the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper," the rest cure failed.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: an analysis

One analysis of such failure is that the rest cure simply locked Gilman, her narrator, and all "sick" women into a extremely submissive, helpless role. As a reader of "The Yellow Wallpaper" can conclude, the rest cure only ". It is also a realistic representation of human beings' desire to overcome feelings of uselessness. The story illustrates the need for a woman to be independent. The story examines one woman's descent into madness due to inactivity. In a much broader sense, however, the story also examines the struggles between marriage and career, social expectations and personal goals.

In reading about Gilman's own life, the story also clearly reflects her own feelings of being trapped in a marriage. While the narrator has lost much of her independence and self-determination, the determination that does remain for her is in her desire to tear down the wallpaper and set the mysterious woman free. In her own life, Gilman similarly tried to free herself and other women.


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At least obsessing about the wallpaper has given her something to occupy her mind. Without a doubt, the narrator is a character with real emotions and real mental deterioration. It is important to remember, and to remind students, that the entire story is presented only through the narrator's perspective. At the same time, most of the background material provided is from Gilman's autobiography, and from her own perspective.

While Gilman's story can be called realism, because of its connection to her own life, it is real only to Gilman, the author. Realism is defined as, ".


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  • Gothic and the Female Voice: Examining Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper".

Gilman's narrator represents a battling woman. In the story, she is battling the wallpaper and its mystery; in its historical context, she is battling patriarchal social codes. For these reasons, the story carries with it a controversial edge. In small groups of three or four, students will discuss the examples listed during the during-reading activity and attempt to make a diagnosis of the narrator's illness. Students should also suggest other possible treatments for the narrator. After reading and discussing the story in class, student can use the internet to research psychological disorders to assist in this activity.

Several useful web sites are listed on Attachment two, Web site Resource Page. In the final ten to twenty minutes of class, groups should present their findings orally for the class. When the story first came out, in the New England Magazine about , a Boston physician made protest in The Transcript. Such a story ought not to be written, he said; it was enough to drive anyone mad to read it. Now the story of the story is this: During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country.

This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, to which a still-good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to "live as domestic life as far as possible," to "have but two hours' intellectual life a day," and "never to touch pen, or pencil again" as long as I lived. This was in I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over. Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote, "The Yellow Wallpaper," with its embellishments and additions, to carry out the ideal I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad.

He never acknowledged it. The little book is valued by alienists and as a good specimen of one kind of literature. But the best result is this. Many years later I was told that the great specialist had admitted to friends of his that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading "The Yellow Wallpaper.

Writing a Response Students will respond to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's essay, "Why I Wrote 'The Yellow Wallpaper'" provided on previous page in a short first-draft essay written in the first person point of view. This assignment gives students the opportunity to understand the author's purpose for writing the story in addition to providing students evidence of Gilman's efforts to educate other women during her time.

The students will be assessed for completing a personal response to the author's purpose.

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One 90 minute class period or two 45 minute classes will be needed for this assignment. This works best as an "initial response," therefore, editing and revising are not included as a part of the assignment. Connect to Today Students will write a final-draft essay that makes a connection between the struggles of the narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper" and those of women in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Students will be asked to brainstorm how they view a woman's struggle with the demands and expectations of marriage and a woman's work and independence today.

Students might be asked to interview a teacher, family friend, parent or extended family member to complete this assignment. Students will be assessed for following essay form and for making at least three connections between the struggles of nineteenth century women and present day issues. The task assessment provided in attachment three can be modified to fit this assignment.

This lesson should be expanded to include proofreading and editing workshops in class. A final, formal draft should result after several days of writing instruction. Defining Gothic The gothic novel dominated English literature during the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. Often, architectural ruins, monasteries, forlorn characters, elements of the supernatural and overall feelings of melancholy and madness prevailed in gothic works.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: an analysis

It seems likely that the gothic novel was a reaction to the increased disillusionment in Enlightenment thinking The gothic genre's bizarre images and obsessions with death, evil and mystery reflect a reaction to the age of reason, order and politics of nineteenth century England as well. A story of terror and suspense, gothic has also been defined as, ". Most students become fascinated with examinations of horror, the supernatural, psychology and the mind.

Gothic works naturally generate psychological responses from readers, therefore motivating students to search for deeper meanings and a variety of analysis. The Female Gothic Ellen Moers is known for establishing the term "female gothic" as an element of literary analysis.

According to Moers, female gothic refers to writings where ". Some critics even chose to compare Gilman's story to the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, because of its remarkable depiction of the deterioration of the human mind. In addition, Gilman's narrator's madness is focused on the wallpaper, serving a similar function to Poe's famous black cat or tell-tale heart. Almost years before Gilman's story was published, Ann Radcliffe established a standard for a gothic novel written by a woman writer. Radcliffe's novel's central figure is a young woman who was a persecuted victim and courageous heroine.

Applying this definition to "The Yellow Wallpaper," it is clear to see why the story has been called gothic. Further complicating the analysis of Gilman's story as a gothic tale is Moers' discussion of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. A novel about creation, birth and its traumatic aftermath, Shelley established fear, guilt, depression, and anxiety as commonplace reactions to birth.

In real life, Gilman's own nervous condition followed the birth of her daughter, Katherine, and paralleled the narrator's madness which revolves around the yellow wallpaper of an old nursery. Unlike many some gothic tales, Gilman's story is not simply about a haunted environment or an estranged woman. The story connects both setting and character with a chilling effect. Gothic Horror In groups of three or four, ask students to brainstorm what happens when we try to apply a real diagnosis to a work of fiction. While Gilman's story is based on real events, it is still a short story.

Groups should then prepare at least three statements to make that prove "The Yellow Wallpaper" is an example of realism. Then, they should prepare at least three statements to prove that "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a gothic horror story. This assignment can be presented orally or written. Allot one 45 minute class or half of a 90 minute class period. Each student will be asked to make one solid point to defend the group's argument.

The debates may or may not be settled, but will provide students with a forum for drawing some conclusions about the story. Students will be assessed for taking an active part in the debate. Debate topics are "How Responsible is John? The Theme of Madness The narrator in Gilman's story is one of many patients in American literature and film who ". When Gilman's narrator give in to her madness, her obsession over the wallpaper becomes the only part of her life that she can control.

The film Gaslight, is a great companion to "The Yellow Wallpaper" in relation to the theme of madness. Its heroine is on the verge of a complete mental breakdown when she realizes that her dashing husband has been trying to drive her insane in order to locate her family jewels, which are hidden in their London home. While most students dread watching old, black and white films, this film is so full of suspense and mystery it is highly recommended.

The following speech is in given by the heroine, Paula, in the final moments of the film. Or is it I who am mad? Yes, of course, that's it. I'm always losing things and forgetting them, and I must find them. If I were not mad I could have helped you. Whatever you have done, I could have pitied and protected you. Because I am mad I hate you. Because I am mad, I have betrayed you. Despite the narrator's pleas, that she has a more serious illness, John refuses to alter his course of treatment. In The Yellow Wallpaper the narrator suggests that she believes that John's diagnosis of her was incorrect.

Upon reading The Yellow Wallpaper , many believe that John misdiagnosed the narrator. In Paula Treichler's article Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in The Yellow Wallpaper, Treichler argues that John's diagnosis serves a restraint on the narrator's behavior. The narrator's diagnosis was imposed upon her by her husband John, and verified by her brother; it is noteworthy that these two figures are both men.

Treichler argues that the narrator's diagnosis is a metaphor for man's will being imposed upon women's discourse. Treichler says, "The diagnostic language of the physician is coupled with the paternalistic language of the husband to create a formidable array of controls over her behavior.

According to Treichler's article Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in The Yellow Wallpaper, John's diagnosis and treatment of the narrator serve to control her speech. Treichler says, "Because she does not feel free to speak truthfully 'to a living soul' she confides her thoughts to a journal- 'dead paper'- instead. As part of the narrator's regimen she is prevented from speaking about the severity of her illness. When the narrator suggests that she is not mentally better John says,"My darling, I beg of you, for my sake and for our child's sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind" Gilman.

John discourages the narrator from speaking and thinking of her illness. As a woman the narrator is powerless over her condition. In The Yellow Wallpaper , the male influences of John, and the narrator's brother dictate her diagnosis and situation. According to Laura Vergona in her blog titled Analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper Through the Psychoanalysis and Feminist Lens, "Women have been restrained by the image that women are helpless, and that men know what is ultimately best for them.

John doesn't give the narrator any control over the treatment of her illness. When the narrator suggests that John remove the yellow wallpaper in her room because it makes her feel uncomfortable, John refuses. The narrator writes, "At first he meant to repaper the room, but afterwards he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies. John's treatment and diagnosis may have worsened the narrator's condition.

Vergona believes that John's treatment of the narrator, including his refusal to remove the yellow agitated the narrator's mental illness. Vergona says, "Instead of working with her towards getting better, he isolated her as if she needed to be alone to get better," Vergona continues, "I believe that being alone was the problem for her.

While reading The Yellow Wallpaper it becomes apparent that John's treatment of the narrator is not working. The narrator's writing becomes progressively more erratic, as she becomes more obsessed with the yellow wallpaper. The narrator describes the yellow wallpaper like a painting, she writes "Looked at in one way each breadth stands alone, the bloated curves and flourishes, a kind of 'debased Romanesque' with delirium tremens- go waddling up and down in isolated columns of fatuity" Gilman.

Toward the end of the story the narrator becomes convinced that there is a women trapped inside of the wall paper. The front pattern does move - and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it. According to Vergona's analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper , the narrator's solitary state leads her to insanity.

Vergona says, "She sees figures in the wallpaper, and begins to think about all of the other women who are imprisoned just as she is. Diagnosis and Discourse in The Yellow Wallpaper , the yellow wallpaper is a metaphor for women's speech. According to Treichler when the narrator tears down the yellow wallpaper and frees the imaginary women behind the paper, she metaphorically reveals a new vision of women's speech. Treichler says, "As she steps over the patriarchal body, she leaves the authoritative voice of diagnosis in shambles at her feet.

Forsaking 'women's language' forever, her new mode of speaking- an unlawful language- escapes 'the sentence' imposed by patriarchy. I agree with both interpretations of Gilman's work. John ignored the narrator's pleas for a more serious diagnosis. John dismissed the narrator's concerns as women's speech. Therefore the narrator's illness, left untreated, progressed until she had a breakdown, and tore down the wallpaper. In this sense, The Yellow Wallpaper serves as an allegory as to the importance of taking women's speech seriously.

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