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Hysteria's Affects in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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During our time in class, we have had the opportunity to study ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, a short novel written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman; A popular feminist during the Victorian era. The story was first published in the 1892 issue of ‘The New England Magazine’. Gilman was born July 3rd 1860 and died August 17th 1935. She married Charles Walter Stetson in 1884. Her postnatal depression led up to her divorce in 1888.

As it was for nearly all women in the Victorian era, Gilman was told she was suffering from hysteria. This is then reflected in the novel, when the protagonist mentions how her ‘condition is worsening’. In fact, the novel is very didactic, as it shows how poorly women were treated in the Victorian era. She took her problems to a recommended to physician. She was told to abandon her love of writing and was made house-bound. This nearly drove her insane.

Her cure was 'The Yellow Wallpaper'. In lots of ways, the story is more non fiction than fiction, as it tells us how badly women were treated, and how insignificant the women were.

The setting is a feature that instantly shows the genre of the novel. It is clear to any reader that this novel has a gothic setting. For example, the quote, “A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house.” First of all, the word hereditary is often used in gothic novels because of its meaning; the passing of sins. The word hereditary, when used in 'The Yellow Wallpaper' can be very ambiguous as the two meanings could fit easily into the story. This helps prove our point that the novel fits into the gothic tradition as ambiguity is popular amongst gothic pieces.

This quote also has even more gothic traits. An obvious one, even so, it still shows signs that t...


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...at she has done wrong. A quote to back up my suggestion is “there is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken and two bulbous eyes staring it you upside down.” A broken neck could suggest suicide. It is not clear that it is the protagonist who has the “broken neck” but it is a likely outcome. This links to the question “does ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ fit into the gothic tradition” as religious things are used a lot in gothic pieces.

There are a variety of interpretations for the movement behind the wallpaper. My personal interpretation is that the wallpaper represents the protagonist, and how she is symbolically trapped by her own marriage, and she has no freedom. Another interpretation is how, at night time, the front of the pattern can be seen as bars, and yet still the woman behind is visible; therefore looking like the woman behind is imprisoned.


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