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The Oppression of Women Exposed in The Yellow Wallpaper

The Oppression of Women Exposed in The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman is remembered today principally for her feminist work “The Yellow Wallpaper.” It dramatizes her life and her experience with Dr. S. Weir Mitchell’s now infamous “rest cure.” Commonly prescribed for women suffering from “hysteria,” the rest cure altogether forbade company, art, writing, or any other form of intellectual stimulation. When Mitchell prescribed this for Gilman, he told her to “‘live a domestic life as far as possible,’ to ‘have but two hours’ intellectual life a day,’ and ‘never to touch pen, brush or pencil again’ as long as I lived” (“Why I Wrote . . . n.p.). It nearly drove her insane. She began to recover only when she returned to her art and writing, and subsequently wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” to alert others to the perils of the rest cure and its attempt to stifle creativity. It raises the question, stated by Conrad Shumaker, “What happens to the imagination when it’s defined as feminine

(and thus weak) and has to face a society that values the useful and the practical and rejects anything else as nonsense?” (590). The answer provided by Gilman is that it becomes uncontrollable and has the potential to destroy a person’s sanity.

In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator suffers from postpartum depression, diagnosed by her husband John as “hysteria.” He recommends the rest cure for her and arranges for them to spend the summer in a country mansion. Although his wife wants to take a downstairs room which opens out into the garden, John forces her to live upstairs in a nursery with barred windows and hideous yellow wallpaper. She is not permitted to write, except for a journal which she keeps surreptitiously, an…

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…William Day, and Sandra Waller. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1997. 299-312.

“Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.'” The Forerunner October 1913: n.p.

Golden, Catherine. “The Writing of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: A Double Palimpsest.” Studies in American Fiction 17 (1989): 198-201.

Johnson, Greg. “Gilman’s Gothic Allegory: Rage and Redemption in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.'” Studies in Short Fiction 26 (1989): 521-30.

Kasmer, Lisa “Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: A Symptomatic Reading.” Literature and Psychology 36.3 (1990): 1-15.

MacPike, Loralee. “Environment as Psychopathological Symbolism in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.'” American Literary Realism 8 (1975): 286-88.

Shumaker, Conrad. “Too Terribly Good to be Printed: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.'” American Literature 57 (1985): 588-99.

The Awakening as an Allegory of Existentialism

The Awakening as an Allegory of Existentialism

Kate Chopin’s The Awakening as the title suggests is just that‹the story of a young woman’s awakening to life. Even though it is a work of fiction, the character of Edna undergoes such a radical change one cannot ignore the psychological depth of the work. The story could almost be seen as a case study. In order to analyze the work psychologically, it is important to decide which psychological framework to use. I chose the critic Cynthia Wolff who uses a Freudian framework for analysis. Wolff feels that Edna’s problems are a result of oral conflicts, while I see the work as more of an allegory of existentialism, and Edna’s problems are a result of a lack of Being.

Cynthia Wolff draws the reader into the Freudian framework by pointing out how cyclic Edna’s life is in relation to eating and sleeping. Wolff claims, “If one were to plot the course of Edna’s life during this period, the most reliable indices to the passage of time would be her meals and her periods of sleep” (Wolff 231). Since these are the most basic needs, one can quickly recognize the “infantile life-pattern” (Wolff 231) in Edna. Wolff goes on to explain that Edna does not recognize her desire for Robert to be sexual because “Edna’s libidinal energies have been arrested at a pre-genital level” (Wolff 232). In Freudian terms this means that Edna’s relationship to the world around her is on an oral level. This level is characteristic of very young children whose only concern is for food, and anything they can reach they attempt to put in their mouths. The “taking in” of the world in this way is the child’s attempt to understand and become one with the world by internalizing it. The oral stag…

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… her. Since this would not be tolerated by the society of the day, her children would suffer because of their mot

her’s behavior. Since she cannot be in a world that will not let her Be, she chooses to give up what has become to her an unessential‹life.


1The hyphens in Being-in-the-world are to show that a Being and the world are interdependent on one another and therefore inseparable.

Works Cited

Dostoyevky, Fyodor. Notes From the Underground. New York: Dover, 1992.

Heidegger, Martin. Basic Writings. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1993.

May, Rollo. Existence. New York: Simon

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