The Yellow Wallpaper was a short story that I had to read for not one, but TWO of my modules at university: for the Gothic, and for Gender, Sex and Culture. It is only a short story however, Perkins packs so much mystery and thrill into very few pages.
‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is the chilling tale of a woman driven to the brink of insanity by the ‘rest cure’ prescribed after the birth of her child. Isolated in a crumbling colonial mansion, in a room with bars on the windows, the tortuous pattern of the yellow wallpaper winds its way into the recesses of her mind.
Throughout this short story, we follow a nameless narrator as she takes us through what it’s like to suffer from mental health and how she is shut up in a room by her husband. During this time, our narrator starts to go ‘mad’ and she thinks there’s a woman behind the disgusting yellow wallpaper trying to get free.
What’s so brilliant about Perkins’ writing is that she uses the woman ‘trapped’ behind the wallpaper as a metaphor for how women felt (and feel) in their everyday lives. They are trapped by the patriarchy, their voices repressed by the dominant ideologies of this world. It’s sad to think that really, not much has changed with how women are treated since this short story was written and this can be seen by how her husband treats her. He dismisses her depression as a ‘nervous disposition’ and then takes away the one thing that she loves the most – writing. Reading about the marriage from a 21st-century perspective, it’s obvious that the marriage was very abusive in the emotional sense because of how much the husband restricted her and took the things that she loved away from her.
“I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time.”
― Charlotte Perkins Gilman,
This story is actually very chilling! It’s eery to read about this woman’s change in mental health. She goes from sitting in her room and commenting on what happens around her, and then she discusses the yellow wallpaper in her room more and more often and then starts to become obsessed with it. It was just so strange yet, scary to read about her descent in ‘madness’.
I think what is so effective about this story is that it IS so short. It makes the impact of events much more and makes it more fast-paced. I think it would be interesting as a novella idea (so about 80 pages), but I think that it would lose its impact if it was longer.
I can definitely see why this is such a feminist staple. It explores the world of women and how they are perceived by society and by men. It was brilliantly written and the ending definitely packed a punch! I’m looking forward to studying this story in more depth when I start my Gender, Sex and Culture module at university!