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The Deeper Meaning of The Yellow Wallpaper

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," is the disheartening tale of a woman suffering from postpartum depression. Set during the late 1890s, the story shows the mental and emotional results of the typical "rest cure" prescribed during that era and the narrator’s reaction to this course of treatment. It would appear that Gilman was writing about her own anguish as she herself underwent such a treatment with Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell in 1887, just two years after the birth of her daughter Katherine. The rest cure that the narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper" describes is very close to what Gilman herself experienced; therefore, the story can be read as reflecting the feelings of women like herself who suffered through such treatments. Because of her experience with the rest cure, it can even be said that Gilman based the narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper" loosely on herself. But I believe that expressing her negative feelings about the popular rest cure is only half of the message that Gilman wanted to send. Within the subtext of this story lies the theme of oppression: the oppression of the rights of women especially inside of marriage. Gilman was using the woman/women behind the wallpaper to express her personal views on this issue.

The two common threads that connect Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the narrator in her story are depression/postpartum depression, and entrapment within their roles as of women. Specifically, Gilman and the narrator are trying to escape the function society has placed on them. First, after fulfilling their expected duties as wife and mother, both Gilman and the narrator become depressed after the birth of their child. It is this depression that leads them to the infamous rest cure...


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...ness in the form of all "of those creeping women" trying to escape from the oldness that trapped them, acted as a premonition for changes in women’s rights movement (Gilman 89). For Gilman and her story "The Yellow Wallpaper" life is imitating art.

Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." Images of Woman in American Popular Culture. Ed. Angela G. Dorenkamp, et al. Port Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1995. 78-89.

Kessler, Carol Parley. "Charlotte Perkins Gilman 1860 -1935." Modem American Women Writers. Ed. Elaine Showalter, et al. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1991. 155 -169.

Scharnhorst, Gary. "Gilman." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Ed. Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. 209-210.

Wagner-Martin, Linda. "The Yellow Wallpaper." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Ed. Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. 981- 982.


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