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The Yellow Wallpaper

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in Hartford,

Connecticut on July 3, 1860. From the day of her

birth, she was a woman ahead of her time. In 1890,

she wrote The Yellow Wallpaper a story about a

woman who was oppressed by her husband and her

illness. This, Gilman's most famous work, was written

from her own experience in life.

In 1884, Charlotte Perkins married Charles Walter

Stetson and had one daughter. Following the birth of

her daughter, she was greatly depressed and took a

therapeutic 3 month trip to California. Dr. Silas Weir

Mitchell was consulted in 1884 by Mr. Stetson to

treat his wife for what was then called hysteria. Dr.

Mitchell's treatment involved complete isolation and

the removal of anything that might cause "mental

stimulation," and so Charlotte spend her 3 months

isolated in a room in a large country estate,

estranged from her daughter and husband. Following

her divorce from her husband in 1894, Charlotte

Perkins Stetson became a committed social activist

and feminist. Later, in 1900, she married her first

cousin, George Houghton Gilman. It is believed that

this was a marriage of convenience, allowing

Charlotte to concentrate on her writings by not being

in a marriage that involved love and duty, but mutual

respect.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote primarily of the

suppression of women. She experienced as a child

many restrictions imposed by her mother,

estrangement from her father because of her parents

divorce at a young age, and the disappointment with

not having the freedom to grow as a person while

married to Stetson. She wrote of what she knew and

experienced.

In The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator is a woman

who has been diagnosed with a "temporary nervous

depression." Because of her condition, she is

restricted by her doctor and her husband from all

types of intellectual stimulation. Just like Gilman, the

narrator is sent to a large, old country estate for 3

months in the summer to rest and relax, forbidden to

write. Throughout the story, she is inside a room with

yellow wallpaper. Just as women must do, she had

given up on staying in a sunny room downstairs when

her husband had dismissed her plea with so much

as consideration. She sees patterns in the paper that

look like bars and behind the pattern she sees

women.

The front pattern does move--and no wonder! The

woman behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there

are a great many women behind, and sometimes

only one, and she crawls around fast, and her

crawling shakes it all over. Then in the very bright

spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she

just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard.

And she is trying to climb through that pattern--it

strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.

(299)

In these women, the narrator is seeing herself, but

she does not yet know it. The bars are society, the

women behind the bars are women like Gilman trying

to break free and be strong and independent.

Society and men are keeping these women down

and strangling them. In the "very bright spots," the

woman keeps still, and in the darker places she is

trying hard to escape. This represents the narrator's

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