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"The Yellow Wallpaper"

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Jessica Morris

on 22 October 2014

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Transcript of "The Yellow Wallpaper"

"The Yellow Wallpaper"
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

"The Yellow Wallpaper” was often thought to be Charlotte’s own autobiographic story, and her way of expressing her lifelong mission to improve women’s lives.
The rest cure apparently worsens the narrator's condition, although it is questionable whether the narrator is more sane in the beginning of the story, when she holds absolute trust in her husband's power to cure her, or at the end of the story, when she subconsciously records the parallel between the women imprisoned behind bars and herself, imprisoned and infantilized in the yellow walls of a barred playroom.
The narrator, who must write in secrecy since her husband wants her to stay in bed and away from pen and paper, tells her diary about the room's wallpaper, which, as weeks pass, seems to come to life. She begins to see distorted shapes and figures in the wallpaper's design, eventually recognizing a woman trying to "shake the pattern" of the discolored wallpaper "as if she wanted to get out."
Early Life

Born at a time of national and familial conflict and to a heritage that embodied social change, Perkins grew up to be a key social activist, and so prolific a writer that she approximated her publications to be the equivalent of twenty-five volumes of writing, an estimate closely substantiated by Gary Scharnhorst's 1985 bibliography of her work.

At the time of her divorce from Stetson, Charlotte published a story that established her reputation among her contemporaries and within the modern feminist movement. Stetson first gained recognition in April 1890, when she published her poem "Similar Cases" in the Nationalist and received attention from reformers and a letter of praise from William Dean Howells, a respected writer and editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

In 1891 Stetson moved to Oakland with her daughter. Oakland and San Francisco were active sites of reform, and she became increasingly involved in reform movements such as the Nationalist Party, which advocated socialism.

Stetson remained active in public speaking, giving a series of lectures through the winter of 1892, the subject of which--the relationship between economics and women--was expanded on in her later works.

In 1898 she wrote her most influential book, which brought her to the highest point of fame in her career--Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution.Thus Gilman sought to challenge the stereotype that women are inherently maternal.

In 1909 Gilman started The Forerunner, a monthly magazine that dealt with social issues. She was the editor and sole contributor, writing the entirety of the thirty-two-page magazine for seven years, from November 1909 to December 1916. Burdened with the financial responsibility of a journal with only 1,200 subscribers, Gilman discontinued The Forerunner in December 1916.

"Herland," first serialized in The Forerunner from January 1915 through December 1915, and published separately for the first time by Pantheon Books in 1979. Herland is a utopian novel constructed around the impressions of three males who enter a land uninhabited by men, and peopled with women.

Her autobiography, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Begun in 1929, the memoir was not published until 1935.

Her Role in Feminism

Gilman's entire body of writings, from her poems to her fiction and essays, are all built on a hope for change, for progress, and for integrating private responsibilities, such as domestic service, with public life.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a key figure in the feminist movement. Surely she fulfills many of the definitions of modern feminism; Gilman herself stated that she wrote and spoke for men, women, and children, and that a reconceptualized role of women was essential to altering patriarchal paradigms that oppressed all people, regardless of age or gender.


Postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is moderate to severe depression in a woman after she has given birth. It may occur soon after delivery or up to a year later. Most of the time, it occurs within the first 3 months after delivery. Symptoms include sadness, fatigue, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, reduced desire for sex, crying episodes, anxiety and irritability.

The role of a woman in the 1800’s.
The 1800’s was a time when most women were dominated by men. Women were relegated to their duties at home and raising their families. Wives were the property of their husbands; and some were subjected to horrific treatment without any reprimand from the law. Women could not make any financial decisions, they couldn’t own property and they could not vote.

Postpartum depression in the 1800’s.
Rooted largely in women's thwarted ambitions and limited opportunities, a rash of so-called "hysteria" cases occurred during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Because of the rise in this type of mental illness, the period became known as the "golden age of hysteria."Rooted in the Greek term hysteron, meaning "womb," hysteria was known as strictly female illness that was caused by a woman's "delicate constitutions" and "emotionality" Many doctors believed it to be caused by the uterus, which was why they concluded that men could not become hysterical. Postpartum depression was not diagnosed as a legitimate condition during this time. Motherhood brings significant hormonal and other changes that require psychological adjustment. After giving birth, some women became extremely depressed. Postpartum depression, coupled with the stifling social constraints of the Victorian Era, drove some women mad, causing serious mental illness and even suicide.

Men's depression vs. Women's depression.
While men and women could experience the same neurasthenic symptoms, the different treatments they received reflected cultural stereotypes of the day. The Rest Cure ensured that women remained in their “proper” sphere: the home. Mitchell and his medical peers discouraged female patients from writing, excessive studying or any attempt to enter the professions. Mitchell told Gilman, who underwent the Rest Cure in 1887 during a bout of postpartum depression, to “live as domestic a life as possible” and “never to touch pen, brush or pencil again.” By contrast, nervous men were encouraged to engage in vigorous physical activity out West, named the “West Cure”, and to write about the experience. These activities would supposedly rehabilitate them for further success in commerce and intellectual pursuits.
Critical Reception
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology 4th ed. Ed. Beverly Lawn. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2013. 85-100. Print.

Werlock, Abby H. P., ed. "Gilman, Charlotte Perkins." The Facts On File Companion to the American Novel. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2006. Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 2 Oct. 2014

Slife, Brent. Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Psychological Issues. 11th ed. Guilford, CT: Dushkin McGraw-Hill, 2000. Print

Cooper, Peter J., and Lynee Murray. "Postpartum Depression," International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. Ed. James J. Ponzetti, Jr. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. New York: Macmillian Reference USA, 2003. Global Issues in Context. Web. 6 Jan. 2011

Robin Miskolcze, University of Nebraska at Lincolnwith the assistance of Heidi L. M. Jacobs Editorial Assistant, University of Nebraska, Lincolnand Jennifer Putzi Editorial Assistant, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Works Cited
By the end of the story, much to her husband's horror, the narrator has locked herself in the room and has taken to peeling off the yellow wallpaper in order to free the imprisoned woman. When John finally enters her room, she is creeping along the walls, and when he faints, she merely steps over him and continues her strange task.
The Yellow Wallpaper" is narrated in the form of a diary by an unnamed woman who undergoes a kind of rest cure as prescribed by her physician husband, John. All of the action and suspense of the story arises within the four walls of the narrator's bedroom, a former nursery and playroom with bars on its window.
Story Summary
Charlotte Anna Perkins was born on 3 July 1860 in Hartford, Connecticut, to Frederick Beecher Perkins and his distant cousin Mary Fitch Wescott Perkins.

Gilman was born into a gifted family rooted in social activism, and many of her family members were involved in literature. Her great-aunts include Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) and arguably largely responsible for changing the nation's consciousness about the issue of slavery.

"Frederick (Gilman’s uncle) ultimately found his vocation in the world of literature and letters. His passion for books led him to read them, write them, edit them, and, as a librarian, classify them."

Gilman later wrote that her father was familiar with nine languages. He became assistant director of the Boston Public Library and in 1880 was appointed director of the San Francisco Public Library. He ultimately returned to the East, where he died in 1899.

Charlotte's early life lacked the stability of a permanent home. Soon after she was born, her father left his wife and children, although he continued to provide meager support for them for the next thirteen years.

Both mother and daughter were profoundly affected by his neglect. As Gilman explains in her autobiography, her mother believed she should "deny the child all expression of affection as far as possible, so that she should not be used to it or long for it." In this way, the children (Gilman and her brother) would not be hurt when they were inevitably deserted, as she had been by her husband.

At age 16 Perkins painted advertising cards and taught art.

She entered the Rhode Island School of Design to study art at 19.

When she was 21 she met the artist Walter Stetson at a lecture, and two years later, on May 2, 1884, they were married.

Their daughter, Katherine Beecher, was born on March 23, 1885.

Immediately after Katherine was born, Charlotte Stetson began suffering from episodes of depression.

Her husband pursuaded her to go to see Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, a specialist in women's nervous diseases.

He treated her with his "Rest Cure," a regimen that insisted on complete bed rest in an isolated environment. The patient was not allowed to read, write, sew, feed herself, or talk to others. After one month of treatment, Mitchell sent Stetson home with directions to "live as domestic a life as possible. Have your child with you all the time. . . . have but two hours' intellectual life a day. And never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live."

These directions were not conducive to Stetson's way of living, of course, and as she relates in her autobiography, they caused her to come "perilously close to losing my mind." This experience was what inspired her to write “The Yellow Wallpaper."

In the fall of 1887, Charlotte and Walter agreed to separate.

In September 1888 Charlotte and Katherine moved to Pasadena to be close to to her good friend Grace Channing, whom later married her ex husband Walter Stetson.

In 1894 Walter and Charlotte's divorce was granted.

The press heard about the unusually friendly triangle of Grace, Walter, and Charlotte. Newspapers such as the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner ran stories capitalizing on the unorthodox relationship.

The attention intensified when Stetson, burdened by financial difficulties and recurring depression, sent nine-year-old Katherine to live with Walter and Grace on the east coast.

Feeling oppressed by the public scrutiny, Stetson accepted Jane Addams's invitation to stay at her settlement house, Hull House, in Chicago, where she lived for several months and was surrounded by various reform activities.

From 1895 to 1900 she was continuously traveling and lecturing around the country.

In 1900, Stetson married her first cousin George Houghton Gilman.

In January 1932 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She was dealt another blow when her husband died in May 1934.

On 17 August 1935, wracked with pain and knowing the end was near, Gilman committed suicide by inhaling a large dose of chloroform.
"If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do? . . ."
"I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus—but John says the very worst thing I can do is think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad. So I will let it alone and talk about the house."
"I don’t like to look out of the windows even—there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?"
"There are things in that paper which nobody knows but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder—I begin to think—I wish John would take me away from here!"
Feminism: (Gilman wanted to redefine the women by her wanting them to be equal with the man. Gilman wanted the “New Women” to be intelligent, well informed, well educated and to be a free thinker. Her goal was to be confident, influential, compassionate, nurturing and loving; she wanted the women to be part of the world as well to be well informed at home as a “house wife”)

Her literary background: Frederick Beecher Perkins, her father was the grandson of Lyman Beecher; wich she was related to Charlotte Perkins by being her great aunt whom had created the famous book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When Charlotte's father left he took his family connection with him. Charlotte and her brother struggled as they grew up.Charlotte’s mom and sibling grew up very poor with almost nothing; they had to move 19 times in 18 years to 14 different cities.
"The Yellow Wallpaper," a story not truly recognized for its polemical nature until nearly eighty-five years later.

While subsequent readers have tended to view the story as a fictional account of the author's encounter with S. Weir Mitchell, contemporary readers were more frightened by the narrative than inspired to change the treatment of depression.

In fact, the story, originally published in the January 1892 edition of the New England Magazine , was reprinted as a horror story in William Dean Howell's The Great Modern American Stories in 1920.

Not until 1973 did "The Yellow Wallpaper" receive a feminist reading, when the Feminist Press published an edition introduced by Elaine R. Hedges.

Nidhi Reddy's animation, The Yellow Wallpaper, was an official selection of the 2014 Austin Film Society ShortCase, 2013 London Feminist Film Festival, 2013 Portobello Film Festival in London, and the 2013  Longhorn Showcase. The Yellow Wallpaper is an experimental animated adaptation of the eponymous short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The story is about a depressed woman who descends into insanity as she struggles against the patriarchal institution that confines her. Through expressive movements and visual symbols, the animation captures the intersection between gender and mental health.
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