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A woman gradually suffers a mental breakdown as a result of confinement and denial of her creative energies by her husband.
We have been here two weeks, and I haven't felt like writing before, since that first day.
I am sitting by the window now, up in this atrocious nursery, and there is nothing to hinder my writing as much as I please, save lack of strength.
John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious.
I am glad my case is not serious!
But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing.
John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.
Of course it is only nervousness. It does weigh on me so not to do my duty in any way!
I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already!
Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able,--to dress and entertain, and order things.
It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby!
And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous.
I suppose John never was nervous in his life. He laughs at me so about this wallpaper!
At first he meant to repaper the room, but afterwards he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies.
He said that after the wallpaper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on.
"You know the place is doing you good," he said, "and really, dear, I don't care to renovate the house just for a three months' rental."
"Then do let us go downstairs," I said, "there are such pretty rooms there."
Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little goose, and said he would go down to the cellar, if I wished, and have it whitewashed into the bargain.
But he is right enough about the beds and windows and things.
It is an airy and comfortable room as any one need wish, and, of course, I would not be so silly as to make him uncomfortable just for a whim.
I'm really getting quite fond of the big room, all but that horrid paper.
Out of one window I can see the garden, those mysterious deepshaded arbors, the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees.
Out of another I get a lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf belonging to the estate. There is a beautiful shaded lane that runs down there from the house. I always fancy I see people walking in these numerous paths and arbors, but John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try.
I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.
But I find I get pretty tired when I try.
It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work. When I get really well, John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia down for a long visit; but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.
I wish I could get well faster.
But I must not think about that. This paper looks to me as if it knew what a vicious influence it had!
There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.
I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two breadths didn't match, and the eyes go all up and down the line, one a little higher than the other.
I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have! I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children could find in a toy-store.
I remember what a kindly wink the knobs of our big, old bureau used to have, and there was one chair that always seemed like a strong friend.
I used to feel that if any of the other things looked too fierce I could always hop into that chair and be safe.
The furniture in this room is no worse than inharmonious, however, for we had to bring it all from downstairs. I suppose when this was used as a playroom they had to take the nursery things out, and no wonder! I never saw such ravages as the children have made here.
The wallpaper, as I said before, is torn off in spots, and it sticketh closer than a brother--they must have had perseverance as well as hatred.
Then the floor is scratched and gouged and splintered, the plaster itself is dug out here and there, and this great heavy bed which is all we found in the room, looks as if it had been through the wars.
But I don't mind it a bit--only the paper.
There comes John's sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing.
She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!
But I can write when she is out, and see her a long way off from these windows.
There is one that commands the road, a lovely shaded winding road, and one that just looks off over the country. A lovely country, too, full of great elms and velvet meadows.
This wallpaper has a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade, a particularly irritating one, for you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then.
But in the places where it isn't faded and where the sun is just so--I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design.
There's sister on the stairs!
Well, the Fourth of July is over! The people are all gone and I am tired out. John thought it might do me good to see a little company, so we just had Mother and Nellie and the children down for a week.
Of course I didn't do a thing. Jennie sees to everything now.
But it tired me all the same.
John says if I don't pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.
But I don't want to go there at all. I had a friend who was in his hands once, and she says he is just like John and my brother, only more so!
Besides, it is such an undertaking to go so far.
I don't feel as if it was worth while to turn my hand over for anything, and I'm getting dreadfully fretful and querulous.
I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time.
Of course I don't when John is here, or anybody else, but when I am alone.
And I am alone a good deal just now. John is kept in town very often by serious cases, and Jennie is good and lets me alone when I want her to.
So I walk a little in the garden or down that lovely lane, sit on the porch under the roses, and lie down up here a good deal.
I'm getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper.
It dwells in my mind so!
I lie here on this great immovable bed--it is nailed down, I believe--and follow that pattern about by the hour. It is as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we'll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion.
I know a little of the principle of design, and I know this thing was not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of.
It is repeated, of course, by the breadths, but not otherwise.
Looked at in one way each breadth stands alone, the bloated curves and flourishes--a kind of "debased Romanesque" with delirium tremens--go waddling up and down in isolated columns of fatuity.
But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of wallowing seaweeds in full chase.
|About the Series|
|About This Volume|
|List of Illustrations|
|Pt. 1||The Yellow Wallpaper: The Complete Text||1|
|Introduction: Cultural and Historical Background||3|
|Chronology of Gilman's Life and Times||29|
|A Note on the Text||40|
|The Yellow Wallpaper [1892 New England Magazine Edition]||41|
|Pt. 2||The Yellow Wallpaper: Cultural Contexts||61|
|1||Conduct Literature and Motherhood Manuals||63|
|A Treatise on Domestic Economy||65|
|The Ugly-Girl Papers||74|
|"What Shall We Do with the Mothers?"||95|
|Winsome Womanhood: Familiar Talks on Life and Conduct||102|
|How to Win: A Book for Girls||110|
|The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs||120|
|Wear and Tear, or Hints for the Overworked||133|
|"Nervousness and Its Influence on Character"||142|
|"The Evolution of the Rest Treatment"||144|
|Maternity; A Book for Every Wife and Mother||150|
|The Household Monitor of Health||155|
|The Ladies' Guide in Health and Disease||157|
|The Puerperal Diseases||180|
|3||Sexuality, Race, and Social Control||189|
|1873 Comstock Law||192|
|Traps for the Young||195|
|Address to the National Congress of Mothers, March 13, 1905||203|
|"The Causes of Race Superiority"||210|
|"Sexual Perversion in the Female||229|
|"Sexual Inversion in Women"||236|
|"Parasitism and Civilised Vice"||259|
|4||Movements for Social Change||278|
|Looking Backward: 2000-1887||286|
|Twenty Years at Hull-House||297|
|Theory of the Leisure Class||311|
|Women and Economics||317|
|"Think Husbands Aren't Mainstays"||325|
|"Dr. Clair's Place"||327|
|The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman||334|
|5||Literary Responses and Literary Culture||345|
|"Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper?"||347|
|On the Reception of "The Yellow Wallpaper"||349|
|Criticism and Fiction||352|
|The Diary of Alice James||364|
|"The Story of an Hour"||366|
1. At the turn of the twentieth century, women suffering from depression, mood disorders, or mental illness-what was then termed "hysteria"-were often prescribed long periods of bed rest. This was not a treatment usually prescribed for men suffering from the same symptoms. Why do you think doctors prescribed this therapy only for their female patients? Can you think of any diseases today that are "gendered"? Do you think it is significant that the room with the yellow wallpaper was once a child's nursery?
2. On the last page of "The Yellow Wall-paper, " Gilman writes: "'I got out at last, 'said I, 'in spite of you and Jane.'"Who do you think Jane is? And who is the "I"?
3. In her 1935 autobiography, Gilman wrote, "The one predominant duty is to find one's work and do it." How do the characters' concepts of "duty" in "The Cottagette" and "Mr. Peebles' Heart" inform their work? What role does music play in both of these stories?
4. What do you think Gilman thought of the relationship between mental activity and physical activity? What associations does she see between activity and health?
5. In "If I Were a Man, " Gerald concludes that "women have their limitations, but so do we, God knows." Would you argue that this is a "sexist" comment? Why or why not?
6. What do you think the physical location and climate of Gilman's female utopia in Herland signify? What does Gilman communicate to the reader about women's place in society, and their relation to men?
7. Why do you think Gilman chose a male narrator for Herland? What stereotypesof women do Van, Terry, and Jeff hold when they arrive in Herland? How do their opinions change throughout the novel?
8. In Women and Economics, what are Gilman's suggestions for improving the status of women, both financially and culturally? How do you think readers in 1898 might have argued against Gilman's ideas?
9. Alexander Black writes in "The Woman Who Saw It First, " which introduces this volume and was first published in 1923, that "so much of [Gilman's] preaching that was once regarded as revolutionary is now a matter of polite consideration, if not practice, that her total effect is no longer so sharply radical as it was to the generation to which we look back." Do you agree that Gilman's views are no longer radical? In what ways do you think she would be heartened by the state of women's rights today? In what ways do you think she would be disappointed?
Posted December 10, 2001
The novel THE YELLOW WALLPAPER AND OTHER WRITIINGS, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, proves to be a direct portrayal of the weak perception in which the American society has looked upon women in the present day and the past. The strength and potential these female victims possess is immense, and will remain so until independence is achieved. The majority of Gilman's short stories, especially the title story 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' seem to reflect personal past experiences, frustrations, in addition to the outcomes of these issues. Her writing is cynical, and best described as mind-consuming. Gilman's syntax and diction paint a full, descriptive, original picture of the protagonist. At the same time, Gilman is compact, utilizing the single effect by relaying her theme from the first words of every story. This novel and collection is a must read for both genders alike. It opens and stretches the mind to imagination, reality, and back again. HERLAND, included in the collection, provides a similar challenge, intertwining the believable and the unbelievable, while forcing the reader to assess one's life and mindset in a universal manner. This piece of literature instills a newfound urgency for feminism in each of its female and male readers as well, refreshing the mind and soul with a deserved confidence as well as a renewed independence. As Gilman reflected upon her piece 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' '...It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked...' ('Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper,' 1913). Everyone has something to learn from this astute woman.
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Posted January 31, 2012
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