The Yellow Wallpaper is a bleak tale of control as Charlotte Perkins Gilman provides an eerie account of a woman’s decline into madness.
First published in 1892, this perfect novel portrays with chilling power the powerlessness of women within Victorian marriage.
This story short/novella is about a young woman whose husband and doctor prescribe nothing but rest for an unknown nervous disorder (which is most likely post-natal depression). Incarcerated in a bedroom where she is instructed to do nothing, our protagonist slowly starts to see figures appearing from behind the pattern on the yellow wallpaper. Despite its short length, The Yellow Wallpaper is a powerful and important read for many reasons: it’s a study of psychology, a truly wonderful and haunting story as well as a look into the position of women of this period.
I read this in one sitting (when I was, coincidently, having a bad mental health day), and was close to tears. At the time of reading, I was growing increasingly frustrated with people dismissing various anxieties. I related to the narrator and felt for her, making this as strong a read today as when it was first written. It’s unsettling but thought-provoking, disjointed but gripping and everything you’d want from a horror movie, only on paper. The Yellow Wallpaper is a genuinely terrifying picture of personal despair and is definitely an important piece of feminist text.
WHAT DID OTHERS THINK?
Charlotte Perkins Gilman gives us an insight into the world of women in the 1890’s. Our protagonist speaks to us through diary entries which allows readers to connect on a personal level and gain a better understanding of what she is going through. The fact that she is unnamed makes the story even more relatable for women who are feeling unheard. Constantly being discouraged from writing, we are told that women are expected to shy away from such independence.
The men in her life are doctors and refuse to believe that she is ill. In fact, they confine her to a bedroom with no stimulation other than a vulgar wallpaper. A timeless reaction that rings true even now, as mental health issues are still so misunderstood. Even today, many people find it is something that should be kept behind closed doors. In this era, rest is deemed to be the ultimate cure. In reality, stimulation, interaction and a creative outlet or coping mechanism, such a writing, is vital.
The Yellow Wallpaper is rich in symbolism. I feel as though Gilman chose the colour yellow because it’s mostly warm and inviting, but it can also be harsh and intimidating. Overall, this short story is a very interesting tale of oppression, mental health and a woman’s place in society. I urge anyone to read this.
Female mental health has a dark and disturbing history. Even in the not-so-distant past, men have dismissed women’s mental illness for a number of reasons. The most common being a lack of empathy and, it appears, any genuine interest. Women have undergone hysterectomies, been sent to asylums and even had doctors give them orgasms all because men have failed to try and understand them. Having suffered from mental illness myself, it’s difficult not to feel anger that women were ‘treated’ in such ways.
Little Yellow Butterflies