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The Yellow Wallpaper in the Context of Emerson’s Self-Reliance

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Against a backdrop of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance we impose in the fore-ground a contemporary story entitled The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, both written in the last half of the nineteenth century: a responsive interpretation.

 An allegory of several dimensions, Gilman presents a message, in the sublime, that the peculiarities and attributes of women collectively are subsequently imposed on women individually. Therefore, as an individual Gilman’s character is being treated by her physician-husband as an hysteric personality with no real cause for her illness. “You see, he does not believe that I am sick! And what can one do?” (Gilman, 1771) Perhaps the allegory represents a writing of personal struggle with the constraints of a psychologically abusive husband and her own biological depression. Instead of viewing Gilman as marginally insane, as both the writer and the character, she becomes verily ingenious. Her brilliance is expressed in the transfer of her characteristics by personifying the wallpaper. As wallpaper usually hides an unsightly wall, the wallpaper in Gilman’s story conceals and then reveals sordid personal circumstances.

 

Idealistically, Gilman has, it seems, many of the same literary foundations characteristic of Emerson. As an illustration: “To be great is to be misunderstood.” (Emerson, 616) Gilman’s character is profoundly misunderstood. Contrary to the husband’s assessment of his wife’s illness, she was rather great in her willful approach to reconcile her illness. Gilman is writing from a personal experience undoubtedly originating from, or at least eventually pertinent to, being psychologically misunderstood by her relatives and yet notable in the sense of hav...


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...e of character is cumulative.” (Emerson,617) Our nameless heroine is depending unwittingly on that very ideal. Her husband whispers sweet names to her, although never her own name, thereby belittling and reducing her to a child state, she’s wise to him: “-and [he] pretended to be very loving and kind. As if I couldn’t see through him!” (Gilman, 1780)

 

In The Yellow Wallpaper John, the husband, is untruthful. The reader is queried of his faithfulness to his wife, his whereabouts during frequent absences, and his refusal to allow her leave the room. All the while he disguises the abuse under a cloak of seeming protection and sweet talk. Already depressed and weakened she falls prey to the claws of confusion he creates. Truth is what his wife needed, truth is evaded at all turns. “Truth is handsomer than the affection of love.” (Emerson, 614) 5

 


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