The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1892. The story is attributed to the Gothic horror genre. Still, it looks like the author herself never meant for it to be interpreted that way. Gilman aimed for a realistic description of the later proven to be inadequate “rest cure.” That was a standard method of treating mental breakdown at the author’s time. Today, the story retains its relevance and serves to draw attention to many contemporary phenomena.
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The Yellow Wallpaper study guide prepared by our editorial team is an extensive collection of materials necessary for understanding the most famous short story by Gilman. Along with the summary and analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper, you’ll find here short reviews of the key themes, symbols, and literary devices used in the story. There are descriptions of all the characters as well.
💁 All You Need to Know about The Yellow Wallpaper
The Yellow Wallpaper is autobiographical to some extent. An intelligent and sensitive female writer is trying to recover from a nervous breakdown she suffered after giving birth. She secretly writes an account of her lonely day-to-day existence in a rental house. The yellow wallpaper in one of the rooms captures her imagination to the point of complete fixation.
The Yellow Wallpaper is a diary of a woman who is suffering from postpartum depression. She is prescribed the so-called “rest cure.” That leads to her confinement in a limited space with little to no social contact. Having nothing better to do, she fixates on the abhorrent yellow wallpaper in her room and loses her mind.
The Yellow Wallpaper was published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine. The 19th century is considered to be the time of enlightenment and innovation. Still, much was underdeveloped and misunderstood. One of the under-researched things was the physical and mental health of women. The tragedy of an incorrect treatment is illustrated in the story.
Why is The Yellow Wallpaper autobiographical? Gilman comments on it in Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. There she discloses how her mental health was once in jeopardy. The poor treatment was prescribed to her by a “noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country.” Only after ditching the procedures was she able to recover.
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🔑 The Yellow Wallpaper: Facts
|Author:||Charlotte Perkins Gilman|
|Original Title:||The Yellow Wall-paper. A Story|
|Type Of Work:||Short Story|
|First Publication Date:||January 1892|
|Where does The Yellow Wallpaper take place?||America|
|When does The Yellow Wallpaper take place?||Late 19th Century|
|Main Themes:||Mental Illness, Freedom of Expression, Gender & Family|
📚 The Yellow Wallpaper: Historical Context
In 1913, the article “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper” was published. It was inspired by the so-called “rest cure” that the doctors applied to treat Gilman’s postpartum melancholy. In 1886, soon after her daughter was born, she was stricken by severe depression.
In her biography, Gilman described her “unbearable inner misery”. The state only worsened with the presence of her baby and husband. Just like the novella’s narrator, Gilman was prescribed the “rest cure.” She followed all the instructions of her physicians, avoiding any physical and mental activities. However, this treatment didn’t help. It even made her condition worse, leading her to a nervous breakdown.
However, this is something more than a personal story. It’s impossible to analyze the novella without addressing The Yellow Wallpaper’s historical context. The short story was published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine. At the time, the female part of the population still had neither the right to vote nor the right to be independent financially. The novella tells us a lot about the gender roles typical for late 19th-century America.
A scientist was the symbol of the era of breakthroughs. He (for it was always a man) was a pragmatic and learned individual who disregarded any nonsense or weirdness. What he did not understand, he shoved away and out of sight.
Men were the earners. They were also those who commanded the social lives of their families. Women were regarded as soft and vulnerable creatures doomed to conduct home lifestyles. Considered to be inferior to men, many women were denied the recognition for the fruits of their mental labor. The traditional female role was that of a wife, a mother, a servant. On the one hand, the upper-class women were pictured as being frail both physically and mentally. They were advised against straining their fragile minds lest they suffer inevitable physical and mental complications. On the other hand, working-class women were subjected to the same level of strain and hardship in work as their male counterparts. Only they were paid less. On the whole, women were in a very unfair position, where their judgment was wrong a priori. Of course, it was reflected in the medical sphere, too. Gilman portrays this side in her short story. This is what forms The Yellow Wallpaper’s historical context.
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