Scholarly articles on the yellow wallpaper
Oral presentation of my critical analysis of “the yellow
The Bell Jar is a novel by Sylvia Plath about a young woman named Esther Greenwood who is starting college in the early 1950s, before the second wave of the women’s movement. Esther aspires to be a successful actress… Read the full article »
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When feminist critics in the 1970s rediscovered “The Yellow Wallpaper,” they created their own understanding of the story and its publishing and reception history. Following commentators lent credibility to an evolving collection of recognized “facts”: nineteenth-century viewers mistook the story for a ghost story rather than a criticism of marriage’s sexual politics; Gilman bravely battled animosity from an entrenched hierarchy of male editors who declined to publish her work; and enraged male physicians condemned the story once it was published. We explore the role of ideology in collecting and analyzing evidence by reexamining the documentary evidence on which those “facts” are based. Gilman’s tale is a good example, but it’s far from the only one, of how scholarship is as tainted by historical prejudices as the literature it tries to illuminate.
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Charlotte Perkins Gilman had no way of knowing that a story she published in 1892 would one day be considered a feminist classic. While it took nearly a century to reach a genuinely understanding audience, “The Yellow Wallpaper” has become just that. The story’s sheer horror was well received by early readers, and it is still regarded as a fantastic example of the genre. However, it was not until the story’s rediscovery in the early 1970s that it was remembered as an early feminist critique of Victorian patriarchy. This story has many traditional gothic elements, but under the surface is a story of tyranny and liberation told in complex symbolism through the eyes of a crazy narrator.
It’s impossible to talk about the significance of this story without first looking at the author’s own life. The Victorian “rest-cure,” a once-commonly prescribed time of inactivity believed to cure hysteria and nervous disorders in women, is depicted in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which tells the story of a woman made insane as a result of the Victorian “rest-cure.” According to Gary Scharnhorst, this medication was developed by Dr. Weir Mitchell, who personally recommended it to Gilman. She was driven to near-madness, and she later said that she wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” to protest the treatment of women like herself, and in particular to address Dr. Weir Mitchell with a “propaganda piece.” Mitchell was sent a copy of the novel, and although he never responded to Gilman directly, he is said to have admitted to a friend that after reading it, he had changed his attitude toward hysterics (15-19).
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Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” allows readers to peer into the mind of a woman on the verge of going insane. We are given insight into the narrator’s thoughts and feelings through first person narration as she is increasingly consumed, and ultimately driven insane, by an obsession with the yellow wallpaper hanging in her bedroom in the house she and her husband rented. The narrator’s previous “nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency… ” (56), which we may presume was a nervous breakdown, is evident throughout the novel, but nothing is said about its causes or circumstances. The narrator’s interest in the wallpaper grows into obsession as the story progresses, causing her emotional condition to deteriorate once more, ultimately leading to her complete psychological breakdown. What is the source of this deterioration, and how is it progressing as the story progresses?
It’s important to remember that the narrator’s psychotic behavior is not caused by the yellow wallpaper that consumes her. Although the narrator seems to be in a perfectly stable mental condition for the majority of the novel, there are indications that she is still dealing with the effects of her previous breakdown. The first is her analogy of the estate to a haunted house, as well as her belief that it “has something queer about it” (56). Of course, this isn’t an irrational assertion, but it does imply some sort of superstition, if not moderate delusion, perhaps as a result of her incomplete recovery from her previous mental breakdown. When she says, “John is a physician, and Maybe… that is one reason I don’t get well faster…,” she’s revealing more about her unresolved mental instability. He doesn’t believe I’m ill, as you can see!” (56.) These lines offer compelling proof that the narrator has not completely recovered from her condition and is aware of it, prompting us to reconsider if she is already experiencing hallucinations or other psychotic tendencies. These “silly fancies” (62) may be traced all the way back to her childhood, which she mentions briefly on pages 59 and 60: