THE YELLOW WALLPAPER An introduction Charlotte Perkins Gilman ABOUT THE AUTHOR Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in Connecticut in 1860 and grew up in Rhode Island, USA Her mother had 3 children, one of whom died, and then he father walked out on them By the time Charlotte was in her late teens, she had begun to seriously ponder “the injustices under which women suffered” Later, she married She continued to think about the oppression women of her time suffered, writing and lecturing about this DOMESTIC BLISS Once married, she realised she was facing the crucial question many women of her time had to consider: marriage or a career She notes that a woman “should be able to have marriage and motherhood, and do her work in the world also” Although she claimed to be happy with her husband, she began to experience periods of depression A year after getting married she gave birth to a daughter and she became, in her own words, a “mental wreck” THE ‘REST CURE’ Gilman was sent to the most preeminent “nerve specialist” of her time, Dr. S. Weir Mitchell (who is explicitly referred to in the story) It was his patronizing treatment of her that lead her to write this story His prescription for her was to devote herself to being a mother and wife, confine herself to no more than 2 hours of intellectual work a day, and “never touch a pen, brush or pencil as long as you live” She says she almost lost her mind following this advice THE REAL CURE After four years of marriage, Gilman and her husband agreed to a separation and divorce She decided to abandon Dr. Mitchell’s advice and moved to California to look after herself She was happy here, away from her family, and when she had returned to them she felt depressed and tired again, so she remained in California alone While in California she lectured on the status of women, wrote and generally fought off public hostility and disapproval of her opinions The Yellow Wallpaper was originally published in 1892 T H E M E O F C R E AT I V I T Y V S. R AT I O N A L I T Y From the beginning of the story, the narrator’s creativity is set in conflict with John’s rationality. As a writer, the narrator thrives in her use of her imagination, and her creativity is an inherent part of her nature. John does not recognize his wife’s fundamental creativity and believes that he can force out her imaginative fancies and replace them with his own solid rationality. In essence, a large part of the “rest cure” focuses on John’s attempt to remove the narrator’s creativity; by forcing her to give up her writing, he hopes that he will calm her anxious nature and help her to assume her role as an ideal wife and mother. Gilman believes in creativity without restraints and argues that the narrator’s repressed imagination is the fundamental cause of her psychotic breakdown. Gilman also suggests that the narrator’s attempt to deny a fundamental part of her nature was doomed from the beginning. John should have been able to accept the true nature of his wife, rather than trying to force her to adhere to the prescriptions of his own personality. In a simplistic way, we can see that the story is about a personality clash between John and the narrator, and that John attempts to make her personality fit with his because he is the male and therefore superior to his wife. On refill, draw up a T chart like the one below. Fill out the first column with all the things from the story that represent creativity and any character traits of the narrator you can think of that show her creativity. In the second column write down all the character traits of John and all the things that represent rationality from the story. Where possible use quotes from the text. Creativity / The narrator Rationality / John Answer the following questions on refill. Either write the question or use full answers. 1. 2. 3. 4. Why does the narrator go insane? Do you think she has any other choice? Why? Is John’s treatment of her fair? Do you think his treatment is appropriate for depression/anxiety? Why or why not? 5. Write down all the things you can think of that make the nursery seem like a prison cell. 6. How does John view his wife? Give an example from the text to support your answer. 7. Why does he control the treatment and not listen to her request to change it? 8. John frequently uses the term “little” when talking to his wife. For example, he says “bless her little heart” and calls her his “little girl” and “blessed little goose”. What does this tell us about the way he views her? 9. Why do you think John treats her the way he does and doesn’t take her desire to write or be creative seriously? Consider society and gender roles in the 19th century 10.Bearing in mind the physical imprisonment of the narrator in the house, and in the domestic sphere in general, what might her descent into madness mean to her?