Thursday, March 7, 2013

Recommended Reading: The Yellow Wallpaper

Do you like to have multiple books going at once? I typically do not. I like to read one book at a time, to allow myself to be completely engrossed in one other world. But as of lately, I aim to read more short stories and essays in addition to whatever longer book I'm reading. I'm considering asking for a subscription to the New Yorker for my birthday next month, because it would expand my reading. I'm currently reading essays by M.F.K Fisher from her compiled works The Art of Eating. And yesterday, I had some free time at work, so I decided to read a short story.

I knew exactly which short story I wanted to read. I reread "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Originally published in 1899, "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a feminist short story offering a haunting critique of the contemporary attitudes toward women's physical and mental health. The 6,000 word story is presented in the form of journal entries written by a woman whose physician husband orders her to strict bed rest, citing a "nervous condition."

While they have rented a summer house, the main character is forbidden from doing any work around the house, entertaining company, traveling, or even writing. Confined to an upstairs room with horrid wallpaper, she writes her journal in secret. Through her journal entries, we see her mind deteriorate. Her husband is convinced that she must avoid all stimulation because he believes she is fragile. His diagnosis and "treatment" only serve to weaken her. She spends many sleepless hours studying the wallpaper, and eventually begins to hallucinate about a woman behind the pattern.

I do not want to spoil the story for you, so I will refrain from sharing any more details. Instead, I will conclude with Charlotte Perkins Gilman's own words about her story from an interview in 1913:

"It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked."

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