The Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
"“The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John.”
The Yellow Wallpaper was published in 1892 and is considered one of the most consequential feminist texts. It is a short story about an anonymous woman confined to a nursery in an old, countryside manor that her husband John, a medical doctor, rents for the summer. He diagnoses her with “temporary nervous depression” to explain her hysteria, which was a condition commonly associated with women during Gilman’s time. The unnamed woman narrates her isolation in the nursery and shares her observations and interpretations of the yellow wallpaper that covers its walls. Gilman’s short story stands as an indictment against patriarchal medicine and exposes how its practices oppress and degrade women.
The story is told through the eyes of the female protagonist, and therefore we are privy to her internal distress and confusion. However, would we read her husband John differently if we did not have access to her inner thoughts? Could John pass as a concerned and loving husband?
How does John use his medical authority to exercise power over the female narrator?
Throughout the story, the female protagonist is separated from her newborn baby. What are your initial impressions? Do we observe a form of patriarchal control over female reproduction and motherhood?
There are two other women in the text who aid John in his mistreatment and imprisonment of his wife. What are your thoughts on this? How do women comply with patriarchal values and dictates, instead of subverting or challenging them? How do other women perpetuate or enable the pain and suffering of those victimized by abusive male partners?
John confines the female narrator to the nursery. How does this particular imposition reflect men’s infantilization of women? What are other ways in which women are infantilized in Western societies writ large?