“Children, I said to her. For the first little while, they not exactly human, you don't find?”
Nalo Hopkinson

Monday, February 13, 2012

52 Short Stories And Poems 2012: "The Yellow Wallpaper."

I have been busy over the last six weeks, so I have not had time to write.  I am seriously behind in my blog posts.  Hopefully, as the year progresses I can catch up.

Last week I read "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  This story is commonly read in Women Studies programs and in women colleges.  I just happened to graduate from a woman's college (University of Notre Dame of Maryland) and had already read the story.  However, this is not a story only for women.  Anyone who has ever felt controlled or powerless can relate to the main character.

The story is about a nineteenth century, upper class woman's non-dated journal entries concerning her life as a powerless, first-time mother, suffering from what appears to be post-partum depression.

Her husband John, a doctor, decides to rent a house in the country supposedly so she can get a much needed rest.  She is given a former nursery as her vacation quarters.  John is away very much.  He says he has medical cases to attend to overnight.

She never names herself but mentions John's name repeatedly and John's sister.  She does refer one time to a Mary and a Jenny.  Mary may have been the baby's nurse. Jenny is her sister-in law

The woman tries to tell her husband John that she is not well and wants to leave.  John bullies and threatens, while forcing her to ingest an unknown medicinal tonic.

Finally, the woman's lack of control and disbelief in her own perceptions cause her to imagine animals and people in the wallpaper and rip the paper off the wall.   She probably wanted to claw and rip John  from gullet to pelvic bone, but was too confused, depressed and intimidated.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, born in Connecticut it 1860, wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper" in 1892 before women could vote.  She used her writing to protest against the oppression of women and to show the damaging effects of patriarchism on society.

Her use of a loose epistolary form for her story makes the voice of the woman forced to stay in the nursery believably fragile and human. The woman is talking to herself because she has no other person in her life to talk to and what she says to herself gives the reader an insight into her distorted thinking. 

Alice Walker used the epistolary device in The Color Purple with the character Celie.

You can read the story here on Gutenberg.

Other works by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
"An Unnatural Mother"
"Five Girls."
"An Elopement."
With Her In Outland
Concerning Children

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