Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Yellow Wallpaper- Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I have started Tess, but this short read came towards me and I finished it off over a lunchtime. At 6000 words it's one of the shortest stories on the list.

The book is narrated by an unamed wife. Her and her husband have taken a house whilst the narrator recovers from nervousness after giving birth (more than likely attributed to Post-natal depression). Their room, once an old nursery is decorated with the yellow wallpaper of the title.

The narrator feels bound to her husband wishes-he is a doctor-and follows his wishes of isolation from her baby, her family, and the outside world. She disagrees with this and makes her own wishes known in her journal which she secretly writes in.

Unfulfilled she sits and stares at the wallpaper which she takes an immediate dislike to. The wallpaper is faded yellow, with patches and rips.

As time goes on the narrator starts to see female human shapes, chaotically strewn throughout the paper. She wants to help them escape, a symbol of her own wanting to escape from the mundanity of married life. From first wanting to leave the room, she soon becomes attactched to it and devotes her days to trying to escape the women she sees from the paper. In her mind she knows that the shapes represent her own desire to escape and this is shown in the way that the wallpaper starts to take on a new life of its own.

Her husband sees her physical state better as her mental state worsens. Her husbands best wishes are actually worsening her condition and she appears as normal as she can to her husband so as not to appear ungrateful.

After reaching the end of her stay in the house, the narrator locks herself in the room and starts to peel off the paper intent on releasing the women from within. Her husband faints on seeing his wife in a room stripped of the paper, and stripped of him.

This is the only book of Gilman's I've read and I'm surprised that it was written so long ago. Gilman has a quite a modern take on feminism and PND which was not a condition that had been discussed at the time. An almost autobiographical tale, Gilman was visiting the real-life Weir Mitchell at the time of writing who was curing her of her own depression.


No comments: