Sir Walter Scott Appreciation discussion

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Archive 2017 > Thoughts and Questions: yellow wallpaper

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message 1: by Tracey (last edited Oct 01, 2017 04:31PM) (new)

Tracey (traceyrb) | 319 comments Mod
This was first published in the New England Magazine (1892) and is considered to be Gilman's best work of short fiction. It is based on her own experience of post-partum depression.
How would you rate it?

Initially, Gilman had difficulty getting this story published and it was classified as horror.
How would you classify it?

It was not until modern times that it was seen as a work of feminist indictment of subjugation of women.
Is this how you view it?

Author background:
Charlotte was raised by her mother, her father having abandoned the family. How do you think this affected her and her writing?
Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom's Cabin was her GreatAunt as was also Isabella Beecher Hooker, an ardent suffragist.
How do you think these 2 relatives affected Charlotte?

Suggested themes in the story:

1. The Role of Women.
The role of women in 19th-century society including:
marriage
economic and social dependence on men
repression of female individuality and sexuality.

2. Mental Illness.
The descent of the woman in the story from frustrated mental instability to rage and complete mental breakdown and insanity.

The story also addresses how doctors at the time viewed such conditions and their treatment. Are things viewed differently today?

3. Symbolism.

Many people feel that the patterns in the wallpaper represent the way women were viewed. Can you list some of the patterns?

4. Gothic.
There is a gothic element to the story in that it seems to include horror, dread, dreams, suspense, and strangeness or remoteness of a place. Do you think that the author used this to add to the effect of her story?

Historical Context.
What do you know of the historical context of when the story was published (1892)? What was life like for women at that time?

Further Reading:
The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination
The Awakening
The Herland Trilogy: Moving the Mountain, Herland, with Her in Ourland


message 2: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (traceyrb) | 319 comments Mod
My own personal thoughts: This is not my usual genre but I am exploring how psychological disturbances are/were viewed and treated and pondering if anything much has changed. Being in the healthcare profession I would have to say that in some instances, no not really. For my own self, I have had fibromyalgia for more than 30 years and was continually treated as being 'a head case' and needing antidepressant treatment. Now finally I am diagnosed and being treated with holistic treatments and some pain meds (not an antidepressant insight and voila...I am slowly getting better. So you can see how with this perspective I can now bring to all such 'stories' of emotional behavior in females makes me more interested in visiting what I would have previously avoided. Until we learn from history we are doomed to keep repeating it.


message 3: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) Tracey wrote: "My own personal thoughts: This is not my usual genre but I am exploring how psychological disturbances are/were viewed and treated and pondering if anything much has changed. Being in the healthcar..."

Great point. The treatment for depression in women was complete isolation. If women didn't obey parents or husbands, they were easily confined on mental hospitals. In come cases, their clitoris was removed to calm them down or to get them to obey.

Health care today for woman leaves a lot to be desired. More women are sent home as head cases, and die as a result from heart attacks. I ended up with health issues which were misdiagnosed for over five years until I was pretty much bedridden.

One example I can give was I was teaching 8 aerobic classes a week and was very fit. I had been put on medication for the above mentioned health issue. I started gaining weight like crazy. Went to an endocrinologist due to the unusual weight gain. Specifically asked could these new medications be doing it. He said no. Test after test, and six appointments with him, he says you'd feel better if you lost weight! Found out years later from a pharmacist that both of those medications are known to have drastic weight gain as side effects.


message 4: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (traceyrb) | 319 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "Tracey wrote: "My own personal thoughts: This is not my usual genre but I am exploring how psychological disturbances are/were viewed and treated and pondering if anything much has changed. Being i..."

What most people don't realise is the doctors now have at most 6 months of training on drugs and any new ones are 'taught' them mainly by drug reps (who have a vested interest, right!) I can't tell you how many times I have called doctors in my 30 years of practice as a pharmacist to advise them not to prescribe a certain medication for either a) the condition or b) this particular patient or c) both; because it really was contraindicated or worse absolutely inadvisable. I don't blame doctors but I wish there was more collaboration. It is both the food and drug industry that is killing most people. And depression, in general, is still so poorly treated. It almost takes a miracle to find a healthcare practioner who will take the time to really listen and take the time to really educate themselves in an area that is so stigmatised.


message 5: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) Tracey wrote: "Deborah wrote: "Tracey wrote: "My own personal thoughts: This is not my usual genre but I am exploring how psychological disturbances are/were viewed and treated and pondering if anything much has ..."

I agree completely. Even the best of docs are at a minimum extremely time constrained. I've got a great pharmacist her in a small mom and pop shop. He's actually the owner too and watches over me. I did have a pharmacist do exactly what you shared when I was a teenager. He told my mother I shouldn't be taking what I was being given.


message 6: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) Been thinking about the isolation in this story. Although she has more interaction, it makes me think of just how terrible and damaging solitary confinement must be.


message 7: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (traceyrb) | 319 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "Been thinking about the isolation in this story. Although she has more interaction, it makes me think of just how terrible and damaging solitary confinement must be."

I agree. This is why it is used as a means of punishment or torture. A human mind left on it;s own has to be incredibly strong and stable with a very great self-esteem behind it to not turn in on itself. We are social creatures and are meant to have a sense of belonging, worth and well being from others.


message 8: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) I read this stories, and many other in her collection a long time ago. I'm glad I reread it. It had the same punch as it did the first time around. Her writing is really well honed in this. First you think it's just her being isolated and then it takes that weird twist.


message 9: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (traceyrb) | 319 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "I read this stories, and many other in her collection a long time ago. I'm glad I reread it. It had the same punch as it did the first time around. Her writing is really well honed in this. First y..."

Did you notice the symbolism in the story:

3. Symbolism.

Many people feel that the patterns in the wallpaper represent the way women were viewed. Can you list some of the patterns?

pointless patterns
lame uncertain curves
outrageous angles
destroy themselves in unheard of contradications

If this is how men viewed women in the late 19th century, how was woman to define herself?

The woman in the story had to literally claw off these definitions and was left without reality and sanity.


message 10: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) Tracey wrote: "Deborah wrote: "I read this stories, and many other in her collection a long time ago. I'm glad I reread it. It had the same punch as it did the first time around. Her writing is really well honed ..."

Yes I've always seen the symbolism. A woman trapped in a cage (barred windows) sees a woman trapped beneath the wall paper which then also becomes a cage. Seeing other women crawling and struggling out the window. Wearing a repetitive grove in the room (a woman's daily existence), and then crawling over the husband.


message 11: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (traceyrb) | 319 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "Tracey wrote: "Deborah wrote: "I read this stories, and many other in her collection a long time ago. I'm glad I reread it. It had the same punch as it did the first time around. Her writing is rea..."

I saw the woman beneath the wallpaper as 'smothered' and unable to express herself. Entombed and covered over...out of sight and out of mind. I am not surprised that the wife identified herself with the wallpaper woman.


message 12: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 270 comments Mod
I noticed that this poor woman was married to a physician and sister to another. Poor thing. The patronizing attitude of her husband has made life hell for her.


message 13: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) Tracey wrote: "Deborah wrote: "Tracey wrote: "Deborah wrote: "I read this stories, and many other in her collection a long time ago. I'm glad I reread it. It had the same punch as it did the first time around. He..."

Smothered is an aspect as is trapped because at one point in the story she sees the women behind bars.


message 14: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (traceyrb) | 319 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "Tracey wrote: "Deborah wrote: "Tracey wrote: "Deborah wrote: "I read this stories, and many other in her collection a long time ago. I'm glad I reread it. It had the same punch as it did the first ..."

It was more than just trapped, I think she felt she had no voice. A lot of women who have been abused or oppressed in some way feel this. I thought the wallpaper was an excellent symbol of this feeling; to be trapped behind something that allows no voice of the one trapped to come through (a symbolic covering or smothering of the face and expression)


message 15: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (traceyrb) | 319 comments Mod
Rosemarie wrote: "I noticed that this poor woman was married to a physician and sister to another. Poor thing. The patronizing attitude of her husband has made life hell for her."

I can relate as my ex-husband wanted me to just pull myself together. He wasn't a doctor though and since the doctors were not taking my situation seriously then I can understand it would be harder for him to. I still feel that there is a lot of prejudice in the medical world; sadly. Both as a patient and as a healthcare practioner I have seen it too many times. This story is still very relevant today.


message 16: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) Tracey wrote: "Deborah wrote: "Tracey wrote: "Deborah wrote: "Tracey wrote: "Deborah wrote: "I read this stories, and many other in her collection a long time ago. I'm glad I reread it. It had the same punch as i..."

Women still don't get much of a voice. I worked in a male dominated company. Was in a meeting, and gave my opinion. Ignored. Said it again. Ignored. The man sitting next to me then says exactly what I said and he got credit for the idea and kudos.


message 17: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) Tracey wrote: "Rosemarie wrote: "I noticed that this poor woman was married to a physician and sister to another. Poor thing. The patronizing attitude of her husband has made life hell for her."

I can relate as ..."


I was misdiagnosed for years and put on some medication. My weight went from 120 to 165. Hubby said it was what I was eating. Father said I'd lose hubby because of being fat. Doctor I went to because I was gaining weight so quickly on my 6th visit to him said I'd feel better if I lost weight.


message 18: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (traceyrb) | 319 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "Tracey wrote: "Rosemarie wrote: "I noticed that this poor woman was married to a physician and sister to another. Poor thing. The patronizing attitude of her husband has made life hell for her."

I..."

Reading your comments I want to weep. "Nothing new under the sun' comes to mind. There are good men out there, great men even. But in far too many cases the majority rule in an unkind way. It is worse I believe in other countries. I once worked with a pharmacist from a middle eastern country. He was doing an exchange program. I went up to him the first day to welcome him and say if he was unsure about anything to give me a shout. He NEVER spoke to me again. Apparently, I had offended him by speaking to him first and then assuming I could help him.
At times I feel like we are still in the dark ages.
I try not to let it bother me but when I come right up against it, it makes me sad.
I hope things are better for you Deborah.


message 19: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) Tracey wrote: "Deborah wrote: "Tracey wrote: "Rosemarie wrote: "I noticed that this poor woman was married to a physician and sister to another. Poor thing. The patronizing attitude of her husband has made life h..."

Things are much better for me. I found a brilliant diagnostician. He figured it all out. I need a severely restricted diet and supplements to support a few things. Little by little I've been putting my life back together. Barre classes really helped me feel more empowered. Illness takes a toll not only on the body.


message 20: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (traceyrb) | 319 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "Tracey wrote: "Deborah wrote: "Tracey wrote: "Rosemarie wrote: "I noticed that this poor woman was married to a physician and sister to another. Poor thing. The patronizing attitude of her husband ..."

You are correct that a holistic approach is needed as mind body spirit are all connected and affected for good or ill together. I too am on a very specific diet and it is helping me a lot with my health. I have no gluten or added sugar or nightshades and very little dairy. No artificial additives but that is what everyone should be doing. An illness crisis can bring us to a journey of health.


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