Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Yellow Wallpaper: If You’re Not Already a Feminist, You Will Be After This

A Review By: Amelia
Feminism has been a real hot topic button this past year and I, for one, couldn’t be more pleased. It’s time the world stops looking at women like objects and accepts we’re people too. In honour of the feminist movement I dug into my old university books to retrieve The Yellow Wallpaper–one of the first feminist pieces ever written and a truly creepy short story regardless of that!

Presented in first person through a collection of journal entries, The Yellow Wallpaper is about a woman whose doctor husband has confined her to the attic room to recuperate from what he calls a ‘temporary nervous depression’, a diagnosis given to many women of the period. The windows are barred, the door is locked, and with nothing to stimulate her she becomes obsessed by the pattern and colour of the room’s wallpaper until it finally drives her mad.

The author of The Yellow Wallpaper is Charlotte Perkins Gilman who was a prominent American feminist, sociologist, novelist, and a utopian feminist because of her unorthodox concepts and her lifestyle during a time when her accomplishments were considered exceptional for women. The Yellow Wallpaper was a semi-autobiographical piece which she wrote after a severe bout of postpartum psychosis.

The main character of the piece is the woman narrator who goes unnamed for the whole piece (although it’s likely when the woman mentions a Jane near the end of the piece that she’s speaking about herself). The narrator is an upper-middle-class woman who is newly married and a mother who is being treated for a slight hysterical tendency. Her only company is a secret diary and, as she loses grip of reality, the women she’s convinced are creeping around the attic room’s yellow wallpaper. As she loses touch with the ‘outside’, she comes to understand her ‘inside’ with a comprehension that the women (the ones she sees in the yellow wallpaper) are forced to creep around and hide inside their own lives–lives prescribed to them by the society in which they were born into–and that she herself is one of them.

The Yellow Wallpaper is hailed as one of the first and one of the most important feminist works as it illustrates the attitudes in the 19th century towards women and the physical and mental health. The woman’s mental decline is thought to be normal by her doctor husband because he couldn’t be bothered to learn that it’s not. It’s a story that brings up feelings of sadness for the women and immense angry at a world that would let this happen to anyone. It’s also a truly creepy piece of literature, though it’s not a horror story based on anything supernatural: it’s quite the opposite. The horror comes from the realization that the narrator (and perhaps the readers themselves) has to lose herself to understand herself and that speaks deeply to the fact that many women, then and now, don’t get to just be themselves; they have to label themselves and then hide behind that.

My final thoughts on short story The Yellow Wallpaper is that it’s hauntingly amazing. Gilman writes with such conviction because, well, she went through something disturbing like this, and doesn’t that make it even more terrifying? It’s a short story that feminists, their critics, and everyone else should read to gain perspective and possibly even lose some.

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