Bruce's Reviews > The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
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Nov 30, 10

Read in November, 2010

The first person narrator of this story describes the “vacation” house as haunted, queer, and seems delighted to find it so. Heightening the intensity of the narrative, she tells the story in the present tense. Her husband John is a rationalist, a physician, who does not believe his wife is sick but has a nervous condition. The narrator seems resigned to his disbelief: “But what can one do?” The narrator presents herself as a child, is treated like one and views herself as one. She seems to be in a prison, and her husband is her jailor. But all this is said circumspectly, as if for her own good as, even as she believes that his advice is erroneous, she defers to his judgment. The situation is one of complete infantilization and passive compliance, the narrator apparently having no will of her own. Not only is she given no freedom, she justifies her restrictions even as she chafes against them. Her bedroom in the new house, pointedly, is the nursery; consistent with her restrictions, it has barred windows and rings and “things” on the walls. The wallpaper is hideous, lurid orange and sickly sulphur, worn and torn and repugnant.

She spends no time with her baby - it makes her too nervous. Has she a post-partum depression? She is apparently kept sequestered much of the time in her room, rarely going out, and her thoughts keep returning to the hideous wallpaper that she thinks contains eyes and malevolent figures. She increasingly perseverates on it, seeing more and more details, the figures becoming more and more ominous and distinct. Seeing a woman in the pattern, behind bars, shaking the bars to try to get out, she also sees the same woman from her window, creeping around the grounds of the house and hiding in the bushes. And the narrator confesses that she herself has begun creeping around her room during the daytime. Finally, she begins surreptitiously and then frantically to peel the wallpaper off the walls. The denouement is as horrible as it is predictable.

It this an exploration of the subservient position of women at the time it was written, in 1892? Is it simply a description of the descent into madness? An indictment of the treatment at the time of psychotic depression? An allegory regarding a feminist struggle for freedom and autonomy? What a disturbing and haunting story, very effectively told.
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