"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Friday, 31 May 2013

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper is an unsettling, creepy and alarming short story with commentaries on the treatment of mental health, controlling husbands and womankind’s right to freedom. Our nameless narrator has been commanded by her physician-husband to rest, and for the most part she is confined to her bedroom which is covered in ugly yellow wallpaper - wallpaper she begins to obsess over, thinking the pattern looks like a woman trapped behind bars.

The narrative takes the part of clandestine diary entries by the protagonist; she longs to write but is prevented from doing so by her husband, who thinks this would be too stressful for her. The diary entries reveal a gradual descent into insanity as she is kept in the house, her insistence that she is genuinely ill being ignored by her husband who is certain that her blues will dissipate if she has some rest. As such, the situation escalates to a shocking finale. One way in which her deteriorating mind is exemplified is the way that she starts the novella with a strong hatred of the wallpaper, but grows to like it:

“The color is repellent, almost revolting: a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.”
“I'm getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper.”

The Yellow Wallpaper is an excellent, brilliantly written short story which has a powerful message about feminism, the ignorance of mental health issues, and the importance of freedom. It is often viewed as feminist work, but it is just as much about psychology. The narrator’s deterioration is unsettling and poignant, and her communication to the reader through rushed diary entries is effective in demonstrating her mental state. This is a disturbing, intelligent story that everyone should read. 

Rating: 9/10

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