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Protest in The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper written by Charlotte Gitman presents a woman’s madness as a tool of making a protest against either medical or any other kind of oppression. Charlotte Perkins Gitman is a celebrated American novelist, sociologist, social reform lecturer, and feminist writer of nonfiction poetry and short stories. Being an utopian feminist with exceptional achievements at those times for women, Charlotte embodied ideal model for generations of feminists because of unorthodox notions, concepts, and her style of life. The Yellow Wallpaper is her piece of writing with the elements of her own biography written immediately after the strict bout of such disease as postpartum psychosis.

Gitman (3 July 1860 -17 August 1935) was born in the city of Hartford, Connecticut. Her brother was 15 months younger. Later, her father abandoned the family in a state of extreme poverty; thus, children often had to cooperate with their aunts from the father’s side as the mother could not maintain the family well-being. Mary Perkins used to show little affection to her children in order to prevent them from the disappointments she felt upon herself. Children ought not to have close friendships and read fiction. However, Charlotte’s love to reading books spilled over into her visiting libraries and establishing connections with her father in a way of advising books she should have read. Future writer spent much of her time at Rhode Island locations where she had mostly male friends’ that is why she called herself a “tomboy”. Gitman attended seven schools of public type and then became a pupil of one interesting public society that stimulated students’ studying at home, but it was only until her 15. Later, she entered Rhode Island School of Design at the age of 18; this school received the monetary aid from her father. There Charlotte managed to support herself as a virtuoso of card playing, a repeater, and a painter.

She married a painter named Charles Stetson, but her inner feeling indicated that he was not a right partner. Katherine Beecher Stetson, the only child of the couple, was born a year after they married. After the birth of her daughter, Charlotte fell into depression that was peculiar to women of her age; thus, she suffered from it continuously. Charlotte divorced her husband in 1894 that was a rare phenomenon at those times. In Pasadena, California, she lived with her daughter some time afterwards and became an active feminist and reformist of The Pacific Coast Woman’s Press Association, the Economic Club, The Parents Association, the Women’s Alliance, etc. Later, Charlotte sent her daughter to live with her ex-husband and his wife, who was Gitman’s close friend. In 1893, Charlotte’s mother died, and she contacted her first cousin Houghton Gilman after moving to the east. Soon, they became very close friends and then lovers. In 1900, they got married. Only after Houghton’s death from cerebral hemorrhage in 1934, Charlotte come back to Pasadena, a place of residence of her daughter. Gitman’ life ended up abruptly. After having been diagnosed with breast cancer, Charlotte decided to commit suicide. She took an overdose of chloroform on August 17, 1935. Gitman died rapidly and calmly.

The Yellow Wallpaper became a short fiction bestseller of feminist press. Gitman wrote it on the 6th and 7th of June 1890 in Pasadena where she lived. The story was published the following year in 18982 issue of The New England Magazine in January. It narrates about a mentally ill woman closed by her husband in a chamber with no bright colors in it besides the yellow wallpaper she became obsessed with in three months time. Charlotte wanted to change the societal views on subordinated women with the help of this story. She wanted women received ideal, soulful, and physical liberty. The main hero’s husband tries to cure a poor woman locking her in the room while the actual treatment she needs is absolute freedom of thought, creative work of intelligence, and opportunity to invent. “The yellow wallpaper itself becomes a symbol of this oppression to a woman who feels trapped in her roles as wife and mother. Gilman’s story further expresses a concern for the ways in which society discourages women of creative self-expression” (Witalec, 2003). Thus, Gitman responds in her novel to her actual doctor who endeavored the women’s healing from depression through the “rest cure”. Her curing doctor named Mitchell was sent an exemplar of Charlotte’s paper as well.

Using as a foundation the laudatory piece Hedges wrote on “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Gilbert and Gubar proclaim that The Yellow Wallpaper is the story all “literary women would tell if they had the voice” (Kasmer, 1990). The critics also come to the explanation that rereading the symbols on the wallpaper, the narrator reveals some double and lets the double to flee from some textual or architectural borders; thus, ripping the wallpaper down was an act of some liberation for the confined woman. The critics extended the liberation act to the progress and feminization of the nineteenth century women out of the patriarchal papers into the places of the authorities of their own. Kolodny feels disappointed that The Yellow Wallpaper was relegated to the depths of literary achievements, because this story refers to a growing concern of American females of the 19th century who wanted to become serious writers. The critic also explains that the lack of understanding of the housewives’ lives as maddening at those times is a crucial point of the novel which is neglected. As Kolodny points out, nineteenth century readers familiar with Poe’s macabre tales of madness were unable to “transfer their sense of mental derangement to the mind of a comfortable middle class wife and mother” (Kasmer, 1990).

In 1981, Jean Kennard wrote the article explaining reinterpretation of the origin of the story. She demonstrated the symbolic meaning of the confinement of woman in the room as a present condition of woman’s existence in the patriarchal society. Thus, madness becomes a form of higher sanity or a parodic liberty form in that kind of society. “It is certain that Gilman did interpret the experience of being a woman in America with power and sensitivity, rendering for the first time the invisible truth visible, giving the silence of the inner life a voice, an inner discourse that is disruptive of her social order” (Quawas, 2006). Through the lens of the narrator’s vision, Gitman was trying to show the inner life with its denied questions and answers that lie beyond the usual traditions of feminine ideals that flow into a calm lyricism as a source of sense and value.

According to the Laing’s theory, feminine insanity is the outcome of women’s violations of their sex-role anticipations; thus, female insanity is interpreted as the outlet of different kinds of repression and oppression in the family. From this point of view, craziness is considered not only as some sort of rebellion but also as a clever and intelligible, potentially curing answer to controversial demands of the society. Laing comprehends the personality of psychotic type as a victim of repression that is looking for its lost and divided thing titled self. Thus, “Gitman uses schizophrenia as a metaphor for female consciousness and sees her schizophrenic narrator questing for some form of truth” (Quawas, 2006). The main heroine goes crazy, because she lost her true self and cannot find it now among the shreds of diverse false selves predetermined by the expectations of preferably male society. She is torn between those expectations and her own authenticity. The narrator directs towards the internalization of the roles, thus “her madness becomes a tutorial experience, a way of learning, of getting around or breaking through the paralyzing impasses of her life” (Quawas, 2006).

The desperately mad woman dives into the world of images of the yellow wallpaper whose color can be called repelling or revolting. On the picture, she finds out secrete indications of her confinement and suffocation along with a mirror picture of her own psyche in a split condition. As Kolodny observes, “the narrator begins to read in the patterned wallpaper “sprawling outlines” of her own predicament and to record in her diary her desperate need for emancipation” (Quawas, 2006).

Conclusion

In The Yellow Wallpaper, Gilman portrays the main character’s insanity as a way to protest the medical and professional oppression against women and her own misdiagnosis at the time. She responds to her doctor in this short story, demonstrating the unequal role of women in society, their subordination to men, and a ban on self-development and self-reliance as a destructive and crucial point on the way to becoming a well-rounded individual. The confinement of the woman in the room by her husband symbolizes patriarchal traditions of the society. Thus, ripping off the wallpaper is an action on the women’s way to liberation of thought, deeds, and well-being. The Yellow Wallpaper is a feminist creative piece of writing.

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