The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman)

The past few months saw me reading less than 5 books altogether, and it is difficult to draw up the highlights of these great reads. The past semester left me with the untimely decision that I would read shorter books, and this decision drew me to reading “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The 6000 words short story left me with a sick feeling to my stomach, as the story has many interpretations that I could not possibly believe.

Perkins wrote the book in 1892, a year that came as a surprise to me considering how modern it actually sounded, not just in terms of the language used (something I do not think I have clear understanding of), but also the concept and the idea behind the story. The protagonist of the story is a young woman, who was advised to rest in the country, after the birth of her child. She is diagnosed to have “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”, which was a common diagnosis and her husband chooses to put her in one room of a summer house that he buys, restricting her access even to the rest of the house. The story is a collection of journal entries that she begins to write, as we witness her becoming insane as days pass.

To write a story such as this in first person is intriguing, since the woman slowly descends into psychosis and we are witness to each thought that she makes. Whether it is a feeling that she gets that another woman like her had been trapped in the room against her will, or the fact that she over-analyzes the print on the yellow wallpaper and sees a woman coming out of it on all fours, and believing that she needs to be freed, the entire story is just one woman’s journey of finding her freedom, even if it is in the form of a nervous breakdown. Some interpret it as a book about a woman finding herself in a suffocating marriage, and the husband is clearly the antagonist in the story, and I agree with this interpretation. The 19th century was a time when a woman’s decision were not hers to make, and the book epitomizes it in a disturbing, yet convincing manner. It is difficult to understand how much of the oppression is real; 1892 was a long time ago.

My reading of this book was followed quickly by a play about a similar issue, “A Doll’s House” by Henry Ibsen. The concept was strangely similar, and it was also written around the same time. But where “The Yellow Wallpaper” was dark and disturbing (reminded me of Sylvia Plath), “A Doll’s House” was simpler, delicate, but equally as powerful. A play is less thoughtful compared to a story, since the characters actions are all that it takes for the viewer to understand what turmoil they are going through.

In both the books, there is one theme that is articulate and obvious. Both women find freedom in their own way, one by storming out of the house that she had built her life in, and the other by a darker action that I do not want to ruin for anyone planning to read the story. Rest assured, it will be worth it.

Even though this is the only story or book by Perkins that I have read, I have to admit, I suppose she eventually became the path that Sylvia Plath walked on.


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