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There seems to be three different approaches that critics view from the story of The Yellow Wallpaper, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. All of the critical material either portrays the feminist view, the gothic view, or the psychological view of this particular work. Although, the aspect of feminism is the major view criticized about this work; the gothic and psychological critical approaches are portrayed as well. Janet Beer’s book, Kate Choplin, Edith Wharton, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman Studies in Short Fiction, seems to be the best source in understanding and interpreting The Yellow Wallpaper written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper because for many years she suffered from postpartum depression after having her child. She claims that the reason why she wrote this work was, “It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy” (Beer 147). Charlotte Perkins Gilman did not want another woman to experience what she had gone through. The doctors misdiagnosed her illness and she almost died from her treatment of restricted activity. That is why she wrote The Yellow Wallpaper to criticize male physicians.

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There are many elements that make up the feminist view. Many feminists support the idea of equal rights and they oppose prejudice and discrimination that is displayed

towards women. These feminists want the removal of the social, economic, and political obstacles that do not provide women with the same freedom as men. Feminists want to improve their lives in society by eliminating cultural barriers that surround women (Janet Zollinger Giele, Two Paths to Women’s Equality Temperance, Suffrage, and the Origins of Modern Feminism, 75). These feminists have the desire to change the situation of women in society. When The Yellow Wallpaper was written women were fighting for the right to hold property, to divorce, to vote, and to be recognized as adults who can make decisions for themselves. Feminism remains a theory that men and women should be politically, socially, and economically equal.

Deborah DeSimone, “Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Feminization of Education,” says that The Yellow Wallpaper was written to portray the theory of feminism. DeSimone says, “The Yellow Wallpaper is a gripping tale of a new mother’s descent into madness brought to light the inequality between man and women within the family and the overwhelming nature of Victorian social norms for womanhood.” Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a social critic. DeSimone states, “Gilman attempted to combine her feminist and socialist theories to create solutions to the social inequalities that she observed around her. Gilman had a big voice in advocating for women’s rights, that is why she wrote The Yellow Wallpaper.” DeSimone sees Gilman as a role model. “Gilman’s writings about these tensions and struggles between marriage and career, social expectations, and personal goals continue to impact women’s decisions today” (DeSimone). DeSimone sees Gilman’s works as the breakthrough for women in her

society. DeSimone states, “Though written a century ago, Gilman’s critique of womanhood and education remains potent as society continues to struggle with issues of gender and women continue to struggle for equality, independence, and autonomy.”

Thelma Hall, “Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper A Surrealistic Portrayal of Woman’s Arrested Development” believes that in The Yellow Wallpaper Gilman portrays and criticizes the condition of women in the American society in the late nineteenth century. Hall believes that, “The Yellow Wallpaper is a revolt against men who have access to the world while women have access only to the home and where the common humanity of women has largely been ignored.” Giele states, “In The Yellow Wallpaper John is an example of a husband as patriarch, as his efforts to help his wife is a result of seeing women as less than adult” (0). When The Yellow Wallpaper was written most critics believed that the story was written about female insanity instead of a story that portrays society’s views and values. However, Hall argues that, “This work is a reaction to the lack of free agency that women had in the late 1800’s and their inability to have a career and a family. Women such as those Charlotte Gilman portrayed in her work forged ahead and challenged patriarchal ideologies.” Many feminists believe that marriage restricts women and makes men the dominant figures. Before the twentieth century men controlled and inforced women’s roles. The feminist view in this work is very strong because most of the criticism written about this particular work takes a feminist approach in determining on how to interpret and understand The Yellow Wallpaper. The Yellow Wallpaper is not simply a psychological study. “Like most of

Gilman’s works, it makes a point-this time about the dangers of women’s utter dependence on a male interpretation of their needs” (Dana Gioa, The Longman Anthology of Short Story Stories and Authors in Context, 15). Beer states, “Charlotte Perkins Gilman never wrote anything without having an ideal reader in mind. Her characters are types but they are so because they function within a society that is dependent on the maintenance of type, particularly gender types. The majority of these stories feature women who suffer from having been single focused and narrowly defined” (151,16).

Another critical approach on The Yellow Wallpaper is the view of the gothic elements. There are many characteristics that make up the gothic view in this work. “Gothic fiction is a genre that creates terror and suspense, usually set in an isolated castle, mansion, or monastery populated by mysterious or threatening individuals. The content of Gothic is the sublime and the use of supernatural, individual characters see themselves at the mercy of forces out of their control, which they do not understand. Gothic fiction usually features landscapes of dark forests, extreme vegetation, concealed ruins with horrific rooms and depressed characters” (Gioa, 158). In The Yellow Wallpaper, gothic is portrayed through the isolated mansion, the atmosphere of the locked room that the narrator is in, and through her dominating husband. In addition, the narrator starts the story off by describing her summerhouse as a haunted house.

Hall also suggests that The Yellow Wallpaper was written to portray the theory of the gothic elements. “The Yellow Wallpaper contains gothic themes such as confinement,

rebellion, forbidden desire, irrational fear, a distraught heroine, forbidding mansion, and the powerfully repressive male antagonist,” says Hall. Beverly A. Hume, “Gilman’s ‘Interminable Grotesque’ The Narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper,” believes that Gilman used these gothic conventions to portray the social conditions of women in society. Hume also expresses that, “The Yellow Wallpaper is a story that offers the detailed and chilling accounts of a woman’s entrapment, defeat, and movement toward madness.” Hall argues that the odor of the room is evidence of a ghost story. She also expresses that the woman in the wallpaper is the narrator’s ghostly double waiting to take over. Hall also believes that the narrator, “assumes the grotesque, proportions of the yellow wallpaper, becomes a grotesque figure, and in doing so transforms her narrative into a disturbing, startling, and darkly ironic tale about a nineteenth-century American womanhood. Gilman uses these Gothic elements to unleash the nineteenth-century woman writer from the domestic, social and psychological confinements of a patriarchal society.” The gothic elements show the horrible conditions woman had to go through in the nineteenth century and how these women lived in a dominating male society.

There are many elements that make up the psychological approach of this story. Julie Bates Dock, “The Yellow Wallpaper A Critical Edition and Documentary Casebook,” expresses that the narrator of this story was suffering from postpartum depression. “Postpartum depression is a condition that describes a range of physical and emotional changes that many mothers can have after having a baby. A person who experiences postpartum depression can feel powerless, meaninglessness, normlessness,

cultural estrangement, social isolation, and self-estrangement,” says Dan Williams, “Information on Postpartum Depression. The best thing for a woman to do when experiencing this depression is to speak to her spouse, family, or friends about how she is feeling because good communication is crucial. Also she should not spend a lot of time alone. When a woman has a child she will experience a lot of different feelings. However, these feelings are normal for a woman who has just had a child. In The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator does not receive this treatment. In fact the narrator receives the opposite of what should have actually be done for her.

Dock believes that The Yellow Wallpaper was written to portray psychological aspects that women encountered during this time period. Dock says, “The Yellow Wallpaper has always been recognized as a powerful statement about the victimization of a woman whose neurasthenic condition is completely misdiagnosed, mistreated, and misunderstood, leaving her to face insanity alone, as a prisoner in her bedroom.” According to Dock, many critics feel that The Yellow Wallpaper is a response to the late nineteenth century medical practices and social attitudes. Dock says that this story is about a “downward spiral of depression, loss of control and competence, worthlessness, leading to greater depression and further dysfunctions, which is caused by male physicians and even more complex to have a physician as a family member.” Dock goes on further to state that this story is about, “a new mother suffering from what we might today call postpartum depression, that is diagnosed with a nervous disorder. Instructed to abandon her intellectual life and avoid stimulating company, she sinks into a still-deeper

depression, invisible to her husband, who believes he knows what is best for her. Alone in the yellow-wallpapered nursery of a rented house, she descends into madness.” Dock feels that the narrator of this story was misdiagnosed and her cure is what drove her over the edge.

Although, The Yellow Wallpaper is not typical of Gilman’s other fiction, Gioa considers it her artistic masterpiece. Gioa expresses that, “The terse, clinical precision of the writing, conveying the tightly wound and distraught mental state of the narrator, is particularly chilling when it is read with the knowledge of Gilman’s personal history” (158). Gioa seems to always note the similarities between the experience of Charlotte Gilman and those of the narrator. “The author’s personal anguish and despair are evident in her writing and creating the story may have aided in her healing. Contrasting the fate of the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper with the author herself, Charlotte’s artistic triumph over near insanity is indication of her strength of character. This work is a testament to Gilman’s own life experience and in reading it there is a feeling of the tough decisions she made in her life and the impact those decisions had on her emotionally and mentally,” states DeSimone. Indeed The Yellow Wallpaper did portray Gilman’s own struggles in life. Furthermore, DeSimone and Hall do agree that this story is one of the few pieces of work that Gilman ever wrote that delved as deep into her emotions and feelings as she was capable of doing. Even though The Yellow Wallpaper is a fiction story it has some similarities to Gilman’s own life. Gilman established herself as a brilliant author and one of the leading intellectuals of the American women’s movement.

DeSimone states, “Gilman’s work provides an intimate portrait of herself and all women who wish to seen as self-sufficient, strong, intelligent citizens who are capable of leaving an impression on their society and the lives of those around them.”

In conclusion, The Yellow Wallpaper written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman can be divided into several critical approaches. However, the main views are feminism, gothic, and psychological. Although, these views are different, they all seem to come together in this work according to Hall and DeSimone. Hall says, “At one level, the story is a horror story, a clinical account of the slow descent of the white middle-class female protagonist/narrator into madness. At the same time, the story directly confronts and dramatizes the sexual politics of male/female and husband/wife relationships in a specific sociocultural setting.” “Her analysis of the economic and social relationships between men and women and the solutions she presents towards restructuring our society deserve to be examined further” (DeSimone). Hall says that, “this is a vivid, partly autobiographical tale of clinical depression and the struggle for selfhood, written by an early feminist.” It is obvious to see how all of these views tie together. Gilman was trying to portray all of these views in The Yellow Wallpaper. She wanted to show how women were being misdiagnosed and being manipulated by their husbands. She used the gothic conventions and elements to portray women’s living conditions during this time period. Gilman wanted women to be equal to men. She believed that women were just as intelligent as men and could make their own decisions. Gilman uses The Yellow Wallpaper to show that doctors and husbands do not always know what is best. It also

shows the psychological horrors women faced in real life are just as horrible as those of the women in Gothic literature. “The Yellow Wallpaper is a one-dimensional tale which communicates the one-dimensional existence that are lived by those trapped within the confines of gender stereotyping” (Beer 16). Therefore, this work by Gilman is directed towards social improvements.

In all of the critical works that analyzed The Yellow Wallpaper written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman it appears that most of these critics express the feminism side of this particular work. Although many of the critics use all three approaches in their analyzes, it seems that the feminist approach seems most helpful when understanding the story compared to the gothic and psychological approaches. It appears that Janet Beer’s book seems to be the most effective and reliable source when criticizing The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In my opinion her analyzes seems the most believable because she touches on the feminist view of this work in a way that no other critic does. Her conclusions are written with such intelligence and passion that anyone who reads her criticism will feel touched in some way or another. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman intent was to expose the workings of the prevailing ideological and aesthetic hegemony. Gilman is always scrupulous in demonstrating the role of the dominated in sustaining the superiority of dominator. Gilman most usually positions her men and women at odds in the business of social well-being and reform. In The Yellow Wallpaper Gilman uses particular analogues to place consistent contradiction between male and female positions on the question of the present, past, and future of the constitution of a morally and physically fit society” (Beer 174-75). Conclusions like this, is what makes Janet Beer stand out from the rest of the other critics. She touches on the feminism in this work in such a beautiful way.

Works Cited

Beer, Janet. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman Studies in

Short Fiction. New York MacMillan Press, 17.

DeSimone, Deborah. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Feminization of Education.”

The Digital Library and Archives. Fall 15. 5 August 00.


Dock, Julie Bates. “The Yellow Wallpaper A Critical Edition and Documentary

Casebook.” Penn State University. 5 August 00.


Giele, Janet Zollinger. Two Paths to Women’s Equality Temperance, Suffrage, and the

Origins of Modern Feminism. New York Twayne, 15.

Gioa, Dana, Gwynn, R.S. The Longman Anthology of Short Story Stories and Authors

in Context. New York Longman, 001.

Hall, Thelma R. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper A Surrealistic

Portrayal of a Woman’s Arrested Development.” EBSCO Host Research

Database. 6 August 00. http//web15.epnet.com/citation

Hume, Beverly A. “Gilman’s ‘Interminable Grotesque’ The Narrator of ‘The Yellow

Wallpaper.’” Studies in Short Fiction 8 (Fall 11) 477-484.

Williams, Dan. “Information on Postpartum Depression.” Peace and Healing Database.

11 September 00. http//peaceandhealing.com/depression/postpartum.asp

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