The Yellow Wallpaper Charlotte Perkins Gilman
In 1887, Charlotte Perkins Gilman went to see a specialist in the hope of curing her recurring nervous breakdowns. The specialist recommended a "rest cure," which consisted of lying in bed all day and engaging in intellectual activity for only two hours a day. After three months, Gilman says, she was "near the borderline of utter mental ruin."
In due time, Gilman disregarded the specialist’s advice and wrote The Yellow Wallpaper to demonstrate the kind of madness produced by the popular "rest cure." It was published in 1891 in New England Magazine. For the first decade of its life, The Yellow Wallpaper was read as a piece of horror fiction firmly situated in the Gothic genre. Since the 1960s, however, it has been anthologized as a piece of the women’s movement illustrating 19th century attitudes towards women’s physical and mental health. According to Gilman, the short story was never intended as a Gothic horror, but rather as a cautionary tale about what supposed "rest cures" could do to the mental stability of patients. In her own words, Gilman wrote: "It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked." She sent a copy to the physician who had recommended a rest cure, and he subsequently changed his medical practices (Shmoop Editorial Team. The Yellow Wallpaper. Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 12 Jan 2011).
Issues of Society and Class
Are there aspects of the narrator’s story that are particularly class-based? Which? Remember that work is not a necessity for her. Are there aspects of her story that are timeless and apply to all women, regardless of class or race? What is the effect of the narrator identifying herself and her husband as "mere ordinary people"?To what extent is the narrator conscious of her own place in society?
Literature and Writing
Can you read the text as a personal diary? How does this reading affect the way you interpret the story?What is the narrator’s attitude towards her writing? What are other people’s attitudes towards her writing?Is there a connection between the narrator’s writing and the idea that she is reading the paper on the wall?
Freedom and confinement
Is the narrator truly liberated at the end of the story? Why or why not?Who is responsible for the narrator’s confinement? How can you tell?To what extent is the narrator responsible for her own confinement?To what extent is the narrator aware of her own imprisonment?