Saturday, August 27, 2011

20: The Yellow Wallpaper

“The Yellow Wallpaper”
Charlotte Perkins Gillman

Published: 1892

Why?: My connection with this story is very personal. I first read this story in college, but my memory of it was somewhat jumbled. Why? Because I spent a year falling into a severe depression without realizing it. While in many ways those of us who battle depression are no longer said to have a “nervous disorder” and locked away in an attic bedroom, there is still a stigma attached to the diagnosis. My depression was both chemical in nature (born of a hormonal disorder that affects many parts of my life) and emotional (I tried to stay in contact with high school friends and was naively devastated that I didn't hear from them; I had lost three grandparents in high school, one in the last month). As cliche as it might sound, this story helped me realize that something was wrong...and it's really about how NOT to cure the problem, rather than the problem itself!

This is a powerfully written and thought-provoking story. How well Gillman must have known the apathetic lack of energy and wandering thoughts that come with severe depression. How clearly she writes of the fact that medical science in her time did exactly the wrong thing by locking away these poor, delicate women suffering from “a slight hysterical tendency.” Like Conan-Doyle’s take on the dangers of cocaine and heroin, Gillman was ahead of her time in applying common sense to medical practice. Her use of the first person as her narrator falls from depression to psychosis is masterful and chilling. This short story works just as well as a psychological thriller as it does a social and medical commentary of the times.

Gist: A woman who has suffered a “brief nervous depression” is locked away in a rented house to recover her health. As her husband controls her days and nights, she becomes increasingly obsessed with the wallpaper pattern in her room, until it begins to consume her every thought.

Quote: "It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw — not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things.”

Bonus Trivia:
This is a favorite of feminist critics, though I’m not one myself. Gillman herself wrote that this story is a result of her own struggle with depression and the “rest cure” she was placed under. Only after she began to rejoin the world did she start to feel better.

Bonus Bonus Trivia:
This story is free on the Kindle, as well as many locations online!


Perfect For: Ages 15+

Fiction, Short Story
Keywords: Drama, Classic

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