AP Literature and Composition, Period 2

September 24, 2004

Although most people will find The Yellow Wallpaper as simply an account of a woman that sunk into deep depression, it is possible to extricate dual interpretations from this story. There is one meaning that is describing that the author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman can be related to the female in the story; this is achieved by comparing the author’s life and her character’s life piece by piece. One might find that The Yellow Wallpaper is very similar to events that actually took place in the author’s life. On the other hand, the more popular theory of the two states that many individuals examine this story from a feminist point of view. By this, I mean, they read and translate this story with a critical perspective, a view that generalizes men as chauvinistic and domineering.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of Frederick Beecher Perkins, a librarian and writer, and Mary (Westcott) Perkins. Among her father\'s forebears was the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, his aunt. Perkins abandoned his wife after their infant died in 1866 - Mary Perkins lived with her children on the brink of poverty and was often forced to move from relative to relative or to other temporary lodgings. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was an avid reader and largely self-educated. She studied two years at Rhode Island School of Design (1878-80) and then earned her living designing greetings cards. In 1884 she married Charles Walter Stetson, an aspiring artist. After the birth of their daughter Katharine, she was beset by depression, and began treatment with Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell in 1886. His recommendations, \'live as domestic a life as possible\' and \'never touch a pen, brush or pencil as long as you live\' Gilman later satirized this in her autobiography, and used the discussions in her most renowned short story, \'The Yellow Wallpaper\', which first appeared in New England

Magazine (1892). The narrator is a young mother suffering from a temporary nervous depression. John, her husband, is a physician, who doesn\'t believe in supernatural things. He has ordered her to \'rest\' in the bedroom of their rented house. (Knight 1)

Many critics mention that the author’s life has always been a troubled one; she had troubled and loveless relationships with her mother, father and her daughter. These relationships are central to the life of Charlotte Gilman yet only peripherally relate to the incident in her life that sparked one of the greatest pieces of feminist literature ever written. (Gilbert 2) This desolateness felt by Gilman was only one of the factors of her inspiration to writing The Yellow Wallpaper. There are a few that believe that Charlotte’s dubious relationships can be seen when she caught Jennie reading her paper, her sister acts angry, as if she had been caught stealing, this could insinuate a lack of mistrust in the author’s own family. It can also be noted that Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, who suggested the idea of rest treatment, incited some critics to say “The real purpose of the story was to reach Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, and convince him of the error of his ways.” (Dock, 89) This doctor is also mentioned in the story; his character is John’s brother.

Extrapolating on the fact that Charlotte Gilman already had many early influences from high-standing women who fought for women suffrage and political equality, we can assume that The Yellow Wallpaper is feminist text. Her great-aunt was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the novelist who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she may have had an influence over

Charlotte. It is a feminist text, it tells of a story about a woman’s struggles against male-centric thinking and societal ‘norms’. The text may be ambiguous to the reader who is

unfamiliar with Gilman’s politics and personal biography, yet, it impresses any reader who is able to analyze how futile the treatment of the main character was, and understand the deeper meaning behind the story. It illustrates how established protocols of behavior could have devastating effects on the women of Gilman’s time, regardless of the intentions of the purveyor. By late 20th century standards, the behavior of John, the husband, seems eerily inappropriate and restrictive, but was considered quite normal in