Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Giant Wistaria” was first published in June 1891 in The New England Magazine, the same journal that would publish “The Yellow Wallpaper” a year later in 1892. These were difficult years in Gilman’s life: she had separated from her first husband, artist Charles Walter Stetson, and was attempting, unsuccessfully, to resolve her contradictory desires, on one hand, to be a good wife and mother in conventional terms, and on the other, to be autonomous and seriously dedicated to her work. In 1891-1892, Gilman (still using the name Stetson) was enjoying her first literary successes, confirming her decision to work politically for women’s rights, and moving toward the painful decision to give up custody of her daughter, who, beginning in May 1894, would be raised by Stetson’s second wife–whom Gilman considered a “co-mother.”
Although “The Giant Wistaria” remains largely unknown while “The Yellow Wallpaper” has earned the status of American classic since its rediscovery by feminist critics in the 1970s, the two texts are easily seen as companions, for they share many of the same formal and thematic concerns. Both “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Giant Wistaria” explore the troubled nexus between the sexual repression of women, patriarchal control of motherhood, madness, and the anxiety of authorship. Both are fragmented in form and depend for their correct interpretation on a community of sympathetic readers implicitly constructed by Gilman as feminist, if not also female.
“The Giant Wistaria” is a story in two parts. The first, which takes place at least one hundred years before the second, concerns the punishment of a young woman by her parents, especially by her father, for having borne an illegitimate child. The second part takes place in the present, that is, in the late nineteenth century, as a group of young people–Mr. and Mrs. Jenny, their “pretty sisters” and their sisters’ suitors–discover the house’s horrific secret. Gloria A. Biamonte’s interpretation of “The Giant Wistaria” implicitly casts the young set as a community of readers and emphasizes the divisions of that community by gender. It is the women who are at first convinced that the house must have “a story, if we could only find it,” while the men merely scoff and tease until the house will no longer permit that careless attitude. In addition, at the story’s end it becomes clear that the women will be the house’s most sensitive and skillful readers, as it is perhaps also clear that its gothic tale is intended as a warning for themselves.
The Monkey Garden
The Monkey Garden
The Monkey Garden by Sandra Cisneros tells the story of a young girl’s loss of childhood innocence. The story is narrated by a mature woman remembering her initiation into adolescence through the images and events that occurred in an unused neighborhood lot. She is not ready to mature into adolescence and uses her imagination to transform the lot into a fantasy garden–a place where she can hide from the adult world.
The garden is the vehicle in which the narrator reveals her reluctance to leave behind the imaginary world of childhood and see the realities of the adult world. The evidence supporting this interpretation is the imagery of hiding. The narrator uses the garden to hide from reality and the changes of growing up. When she no longer can hide from reality, she tries to hide from herself, which leaves her feeling disillusioned and unsure of who she is.
The first images of the garden are seen through the exaggerated imagination of a young child. “” are as “ as flowers on Mars,” and cockscombs “ the deep red fringe of theater curtains.” Fr…