Type: Literary Analysis
Pages: 5 | Words: 1206
Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Charlotte Perkins Gilman is one of the well-known female writers and social activists of the 20th century who was named in 1993 the sixth most influential woman of the century in a poll conducted by the Siena Research Institute (Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society, 2013). Her contribution to the feminist movement is incredible. Moreover, her literary heritage evokes numerous reviews and researches from various perspectives. Her uneasy childhood and further life inspired this remarkable woman to become actively engaged into societal matters concerning women and their independence, namely financial one, as well as to try to express her artistic talent and urgent topics through her novels. Thus, her short story The Yellow Wall-Paper is one of her best-known and most studied works that has been inspired by her real life. Charlotte Perkins Gilman suffered from severe depression and underwent a popular treatment of those times for women devised by an American neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell and known as the Rest Cure. This experience has become the main incentive for writing this short story, hence making it semi-autobiographic as not all events described in the plot coincide with the author’s life.

In her Why I wrote the Yellow Wall-Paper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman refers to her own nervous breakdown and melancholia that she tried to cure with the help of “a noted specialist in nervous diseases” who gave her “solemn advice to live as domestic a life as possible, to have but two hours intelligent life a day, and never to touch pen, brush or pencil again as long as I lived”. Such situation was common in the USA of the early 20th century where women were expected to be domestic, meek, and obedient to their husbands. The concept of femininity was taken to the extremes and transformed into the male vision of a beautiful housewife and mother. Women were not encouraged to pursue higher education or work as it went against the male vision of an ideal wife. These issues are raised in the short story The Yellow Wall-Paper that may be viewed as the author’s personal view of the drastic situation and drastic consequences of the Rest Cure technique that has driven many women mad or stifled their intelligence and artistic talents.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story has been studied from various perspectives as it offers a wide range of possibilities for its literary analysis and evaluation. Some critical angles of studying this novel include feminist, psychoanalytical, queer theory, Marxist, Derridean, Lacanian, new historicist, and sociological approaches. One of the author’s researchers Golden states that “Critics have examined the diary format; first-person narration; discourse of diagnosis; themes of madness and regression versus emancipation and empowerment; word choice; symbolism; and the ambiguous ending”. One of the interesting attempts of analyzing the short story has been made by Sari Edelstein in The Yellow Newspaper: Gilman’s “˜The Yellow Wall-Paper’ and sensational journalism. This work investigates the possible influence of yellow journalism, namely Ambrose Bierce’s verbal abuse, on the author, hence placing the Gilman’s story within the context of her contemporary print marketplace. Charlotte Rich evaluates the short story from the perspective of comparing the manuscript with its first printed version in her critical review of works dedicated to the dual text critical approach.

There are numerous possible ways to evaluate the short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. However, the most obvious and suitable evaluative approach seems to be the combination of feminist and psychological methods with the emphasis on the major artistic detail represented by the yellow wall-paper. The choice of evaluation from the feminist perspective has the capacity of forming the underlying basis for all other kinds of evaluation as a typical prototype of an early 20th century woman is the main heroine of the story. Psychological component is essential for the analysis because the mental state of the heroine is extremely disturbed and evolves in various stages throughout the unwinding of the plot. Analysis of the artistic detail of the yellow wall-paper is crucial as the latter is responsible for the rapid deterioration of the mental state of the narrator. Besides, yellow wall-paper has a deep symbolic meaning becoming the author’s vision of the woman’s place in the American society of those times. The heroine’s hallucinations and images the wall-paper evokes in her mind become the reflection of the females’ role and place as they were imposed by males and conformist societal norms. Therefore, some elements of the narratological analysis should be involved as well. The narration is the first-person one and the narrator is obviously unreliable, which is important for carrying out the evaluation of the heroine’s mental state. Concerning the structure of the story, it is important to note that it is written in the form of the diary with some obvious retardation episodes. The ending of the story is relatively open, which is the reorganization of the canonical Freitag’s pyramid. This way, the author keeps the suspense up to the very end and lets readers make their own ending concerning the fate of the woman whom they see for the last time creeping over her fainted husband.

The main heroine may be viewed either as the victim of the patriarchic society or as a mentally ill person who goes completely mad. Her evident psychological state is disturbing from the beginning of the story. She suffers from postpartum depression and eventually becomes schizophrenic. She evokes sympathy because she simply cannot see her child, not that she does not want to as some readers may think. She still has a maternal instinct and worries about her child, which is seen from the following: “There’s one comfort, the baby is well and happy, and does not have to occupy this nursery with the horrid wallpaper”.

However, her mental state may be regarded as a consequence of gender discrimination and females’ suppression that was a rather common phenomenon of those times. The main idea of the Rest Cure was to create an ideal woman with no desires and intellectual urges. She had to do nothing, just rest and take care of her husband and children. Through the story, the author tries to make readers see possible results of stifling clever and creative women. The heroine does everything her husband says and rebels little. She wants to write and believes that excitement could cure her from depression. Her husband disagrees and takes her away to the countryside, puts her into a room with the yellow wall-paper that scares and disturbs the woman, and refuses to admit her illness until it is too late. The woman is put behind the bars that she tries to break at night, yet is unable to. This inability to break away becomes the last drop and she goes utterly mad. Therefore, the author obviously advocates for gender equality in all respects and calls for personal freedom, right for self-expression, and need to abandon techniques like the Rest Cure that cripple women all over the country and deprive them of their personality.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story The Yellow Wall-Paper is a masterful work that raises some urgent issues and offers a wide range of possibilities for its critical analysis and evaluation. Besides, this story proves that she has been rightfully named one of the most influential female writers of the century.

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