Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Call for Reform in "The Yellow Wallpaper"

While I was researching Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" I came across an interesting article taken from a 1913 issue of "The Forerunner," a monthly magazine that Gilman self published and sold for about seven years. The article, entitled "Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper," does exactly what the title says, it explains Gilman's reasons behind picking the subject of the story. She explains that she suffered from a "severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia." She went to a couple doctors, one of which told her that she was fine and just needed to live the domestic life that he thought was a most natural thing for women to do. He then told her 'never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again,' which she tried for three months. Her condition worsened, until she reached a point where she decided to turn back to writing. During this return to the pen, she wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper," which was her attempt at both expressing the opinion of a person in her shoes and showing how little was known about the causes or effects of mental disease. Although she admits that there are a lot of things added into the story to increase its effectiveness, the truths about the work and her disease were kept intact. Her interaction and subsequent argument with the aforementioned doctor can be connected to the relationship between the narrator and John in the story, as he makes sure that she does not take part in any work, instead preferring her to stay in the house and sit for as many hours a day as is humanly possible. Ultimately, it seems that Gilman achieved what she set out to do, as she found out later that her story led her old doctor to change the way he treated people who came in with symptoms similar to hers. This call for change issued by Gilman only acts to strengthen the power of an already powerful story, and gives me as a reader a greater appreciation of, as well as understanding of her story.

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