The in this agewhere women have more
The Yellow Wallpaper: The Life and Times of an American WomanThe majority of the life that is known of Charlotte Perkins Gilman isconcerned with her troubled and loveless relationships: with her mother,her father, and her daughter.
These relationships are central to the lifeof Charlotte Perkins Gilman yet only somewhat relate to the incident inher life that sparked one of the greatest pieces of feminist literature everwritten. To be able to relate to Gilmans situation and appreciate TheYellow Wallpaper for how it shows womens lives is difficult in this agewhere women have more freedom than ever before. Gilmans originalintent in writing the story was to gain personal satisfaction from theknowledge that shows that she was right and society was wrong in theway they treated her. But more importantly Gilman says, It was notintended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being drivencrazy, and it worked(Gilman, 20). When the story first came out in 1892 the critics saw The YellowWallpaper as a description of female insanity and mayhem instead of astory that reveals societys values.
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The thought that any woman wouldgo against society might as well have been insane for writing it in thefirst place. In the time period in which Gilman lived The ideal womanwas not only assigned a social role that locked her into her home, but shewas also expected to like it, to be cheerful and gay, smiling and goodhumored(Lane, 109). The women who refused this role and chose a lifeof self-expression and freedom from the social constraints sufferedridicule and punishment from their peers. This is not unlike therepercussions that Gilman experienced throughout her lifetime fromexpressing her need for independence. In The Yellow Wallpaper,Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote about her emotional and psychologicalfeelings of rejection from society as a free-thinking woman. Gilman comes from a varied list of fighters for womens rights andwithout having this type of influence throughout her life she would havenever become the free thinker that she is famous for today. CharlotteGilman was born on July 3, 1860, in Hartford, Connecticut to a longlineage of thinkers, writers, and intermarriages.
Whether from theinbreeding or from the high intellectual capacity of the family, there wasa long string of mental disorders ranging from manic-depressive illnessto nervous breakdowns leading from suicide to short termhospitalizations(Lane, 110). Coming from a family of such well knownfeminists and revolutionaries it is no wonder that Gilman grew up withthe knowledge that she had the right to be treated the same as anyone,man or woman, and was just as capable in her work and in her personalHaving this strong background affected more than her mind setabout things, it also affected the relations that she had with her husbandand what role she was expected to play in that relationship. This was amajor factor to her breakdown upon entering marriage with CharlesWalter Stetson(Lane, intro x). From the beginning she struggled with theidea of having to conform to the house model for women. She statesthat, her thoughts, her acts, her whole life would be centered on husbandand children. To do the work she needed to do, she must be free(Lane,85).
One year after her marriage on March 23, 1885, Charlotte had adaughter, Katharine Stetson, But feelings of nervous exhaustionimmediately descended upon her, and she became a mental wreck(Ceplair 17). What is commonly known as Post-Pardum Depression wasthe affliction that fell upon her and because doctors of the time were notskilled in female medicine all nervous disorders were associated withhysteria a reference used for women with emotional problems(Ceplair,Gilmans love for free will and her work caused a major tensionthat was not anticipated and the stress of denying the normal socialroles of women caused her to have a breakdown. Her writing was aneffort at expressing the tensions she felt between her work, her husband,and her child. She tried her best at beating the depression she felt but inthe end she could not handle it and collapsed(Ceplair, 19). The doctorstold her she had neurasthenia, or exhaustion of the nerves, and requiredthe rest cure(Lane, 115).
This treatment would be considered cruel andunusual punishment to anyone today but then it was supposed to be thebest care you could get. After a month of treatment Gilman was senthome with the instructions to live as domestic a life as possible…andnever touch a pen, brush, or pencil as long as you live(Lane, 121). For awoman of Gilmans intellect and stamina this was an impossible feat toaccomplish.
She says in her diary that she ….came perilously near toIn her time women like Gilman were not given the opportunity tochoose their career over their families, to do so meant they had to giveup one or the other. Gilman did exactly that, despite the enormousamount of controversy she created she chose her work over her family.
Gilman divorced her husband in 1887 and moved to California and latershe gave her child to her ex-husband. In 1890 she wrote The YellowWallpaper in reaction to societys values. In her Why I Wrote TheYellow Wallpaper? Gilman describes the years I suffered from a severeand continuous nervous breakdown and goes on to talk about the doctorwho treated her and how in response to treatment had sent a copy to thephysician who so nearly drove me mad(Gilman 19,20).Gilman is insistent throughout all of her interviews that thisacknowledgment of her writing by her doctor is the best accomplishmentthat she could gain. Regardless of what she said there is and underlyingtone of this work being too close to her emotional and psychologicalreality to be the true and only reason. There have been many studies asto what Gilmans intent was in writing The Yellow Wallpaper as JoanneKarpinski suggests, one theme that seems to run through all herworks..
.is a desire for order and coherence in lived experience(Karpinski,3). Holding this theory true, then it is assumed that this work is a sortingthrough of her emotions and fears in her personal life. If Gilman saysthat it was for her revenge for her doctor she was neglecting to admitthat it was also a true to life account of her emotional and psychologicalToday, after nearly three decades of studies and analysis of bothher life and her works, The Yellow Wallpaper is one of the few pieces ofwork that Gilman ever wrote that went as deep into her emotions andfeelings as she was capable of doing. Even though it is fiction the storyhas some dramatic similarities in Gilmans own life. The YellowWallpaper is a testament to Gilmans own life experience and in readingit there is a feeling of the tough decisions she made in her life and theimpact those decisions had on her emotionally and mentally.Gilmans life was full of pain, emotionally and psychologically, yetshe lived a very good life.
Her only fear was that she would notaccomplish her lifes work, and unfortunately because of her lifestyle shelived she never gained recognition for her dealings. Gilman died onAugust 17, 1935, by huffing chloroform, because she did not want toslowly die of cancer. It was not until the 1970s that Gilmans worksbegan to enter into the colleges and the feminist forum. She wasundoubtedly ahead of her time in her every thought and action. Not untilrecently have critics began to study The Yellow Wallpaper and the morethey go into the world of Charlotte Perkins Gilman the more we learnabout what it was like to live an emotional and psychologicallyBibliography:Works CitedCeplair, Larry. The Early Years. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: ANon-fiction Reader.
Ed. Larry Ceplair. New York: Columblia UP,1991. 5-19.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper? TheForerunner (Oct. 1913): 19-20.Karpinski, Joanne B. Introduction. Critical Essays on Charlotte PerkinsGilman.
Ed. Joanne Karpinski. New York: G.K. Hall, 1992.Lane, Ann J. Introduction.
The Fictional World of Charlotte PerkinsGilman. The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader. Ed. Ann J. Lane. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.