156 Introduction to The Yellow Wallpaper

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is written in journal entries by a woman who is on vacation with her husband to a big house after giving birth to their daughter. The woman is suffering from postpartum hysteria and secretly wonders if her husband is why she is not getting better. He has told her not to write, though she loves to write. She continues to write secretly, and describes the house and room she is staying in. She becomes fixated on the yellow wallpaper in the room she is staying in and is clearly descending into madness. The wallpaper scares her at first, and then she begins imagining patterns and pictures within it. She sees an image of a woman behind bars and cannot think of anything else. She compares herself to this woman, as she feels trapped in the house by her husband. She tries to peel off all the wallpaper to free the woman. She convinces herself that she was once trapped in the wallpaper. Her descent into madness continues and her husband enters the room and faints when he sees the state of the room and his wife. She steps over him as she leaves.

 

Charlotte Perkins Gilman lived with her aunts. One of which was an early suffragist and the other was the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe. These people helped her value both writing and the feminist movement and later influenced her short stories and essays. Like most all women of her time, Perkins Gilman married and had a child. After the birth of her daughter, she suffered from postpartum depression. This influenced her most famous piece of writing, The Yellow Wallpaper, which is about a woman suffering from this same disease.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was in the group of early feminist authors such as Kate Chopin, Virginia Woolf, and Susan B. Anthony. Her writings covered the late 19th century and early 20th century. Her writing is similar to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Gilman worked with combatting the term of hysteria and the implications it carried. The word is derived from the Greek word for uterus. Medical professionals and psychologists (Freud), along with much of the world, believed that the sadness women would get was due to their weakness from their sex. The cure to these blues was staying inside, marrying, and having babies. It is now known that these moods were from postpartum depression or cabin fever of some sorts. Women’s value was only childbearing at the time of Gilman’s writing, and she challenged that notion.

The Yellow Wallpaper is written in the form as if it were a series of diary entries. The first entry of the piece of fiction has the term “hysterical tendency,” which was something that women were often diagnosed with in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The word “hysteria” comes from the Greek word meaning uterus. Doctors would diagnose women as hysterical when they were acting nervous or depressed. Today we realize women were suffering from postpartum depression and a sort of restlessness or cabin fever that originated from their lack of availability to have purpose outside of their home. When diagnosed with hysteria, they were subject to bed rest, hydrotherapy, and orgasms. (Acts were not considered sexual “unless there was penetration or ejaculation,” so basically women’s sexuality was based on the man.)

 

 

“Hysteria.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Nov. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hysteria#Modern_implications_and_feminist_theory.

“Story of the Week.” The Yellow Wall Paper, storyoftheweek.loa.org/2013/05/the-yellow-wall-paper.html.

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Introduction to The Yellow Wallpaper by Timothy Robbins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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