ENG 3U0 – H
17 October 2014
Reading In Between the Lines of Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The fight for gender equality and mental illness awareness is still an ongoing campaign in the twenty-first century, however this battle had begun nearly two hundred years ago by whom some would consider as one of the first pioneers of feminism and an advocate of mental illness. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was an outspoken writer, feminist, and social activist who was impacted by the political, economic, and social influences of the nineteenth century. Her short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” mocks the influences of her time as it is following the journal of a married woman suffering from depression, and in order to help improve her…show more content…
Gilman was a devoted feminist and social activist who worked towards ending gender-discrepancies by demanding the government to give women the same educational opportunities as men. Standing firmly on her beliefs, she stated, “In my judgment, ‘the woman question ‘ has hardly been asked, much less answered. We have had the struggle for rights, and all this uproar about sex, but hardly any study of the biological and sociological effects of the aborted development of half the race” (Loyola University New Orleans n.pag.). Charlotte Perkins Gilman accused the government of delaying the intellectual advancement of women, and preventing them from being heard on the same platform as men were. Throughout her short story, Gilman placed satirical comments about feminism where the personal views of the narrator, a young, upper-middle-class woman, are being overlooked by her family and friends in comparison to her husband’s because he is of a higher intellectual background. The narrator, Jane, confessed that, “If a physician of high standing, and one ‘s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but…show more content…
Gilman wished to help other women who had faced the same predicaments as her by guiding them through her own experiences. On page 85 of The Abridged Diaries of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a journal entry on January 1st 1885 described her symptoms of depression worsening, where she wrote, “I have been far from well. I do not know that I am better in any way. […] Ambition sleeps. I make no motion but just live” (qtd. in Loyola University New Orleans n.pag.). From the perspective of society today, this entry evidently shows signs of severe depression where modern treatments would be to encourage her to engage in activities. Nevertheless, during her time period this would be considered as nothing but, “a slight hysterical tendency” (Gilman 2) that was brought by too much mental activity and not enough rest, the opposite of present day regimens. The society in which Jane is being raised in, similar to Gilman’s, presumed that if someone has no visual symptoms of illness, then their case is not considered as serious because it is all in the head and is only a matter of rest. Relieved that her case is nothing to be worried about, the narrator writes, “John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious. I’m glad my case is not serious” (Gilman 3)! Being assured
Contrary Interpretations of The Yellow Wallpaper
Contrary Interpretations of The Yellow Wallpaper
“The Yellow Wallpaper” was first published in New England Magazine in 1892. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an advocate for the advancement of women, authored the short story. She intended the piece to bring to light the inherent ineptitude of the Weir Mitchell “rest cure.” Though this subject is addressed, many other pertinent topics are broached, ever so subtly. Other themes in the book include the role of women in a society dominated by men, the role of the mother, and how oppression can affect the mind of a creative individual. These themes, however, can be altered merely by how the tale is edited. I intend to point out some of the pertinent differences that exist between the full text of the story and an abridged version, describing how they give the same story contrary interpretations.
To better understand the differences I will be noting, one may find it helpful to be familiar with the basic plot of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Both versions relate the story of a woman losing her mind. She has not been feeling well for some time, so her husband, a physician, decides a summer spent relaxing in the country would benefit her. While there, she is forbidden to write in her journal, as it indulges her imagination, which is not in accordance with her husband’s wishes. Despite this, the narrator makes entries in the journal whenever she has the opportunity. Through these entries we learn of her obsession with the wallpaper in her bedroom. She is enthralled with it and studies the paper for hours. She fancies she sees a woman trapped behind the pattern in the paper. The story reaches its climax when her husband must force his way into the bedroom, only to find…
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…woman being driven mad by her position in life. The wallpaper merely serves as a catalyst for her breakdown. This interpretive discrepancy, as well as the loss of authenticity and finally the weakening of John’s power, ultimately leaves the two versions of “The Yellow Wallpaper” open to varying interpretations.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Ed. Dale M. Bauer. Bedford Cultural Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998.
—. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Great American Short Stories. Pleasantville: Reader’s Digest, 1977. 195-206.
Golden, Catherine, ed. The Captive Imagination: A Casebook on “The Yellow Wallpaper.” New York: Feminist Press, 1992
Kasmer, Lisa. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: A Symptomatic Reading.” Literature and Psychology. 36, (1990): 1-15.