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Summary Article: 'Yellow Wallpaper, The' (1892) from The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's most celebrated and widely read short story is the tale of a depressed woman with a young baby who has been prescribed a period of social exclusion and mental inactivity, a 'rest cure' that precipitates the very collapse it was designed to avoid. The (unnamed) narrator becomes obsessed with her own condition and the 'torturing' pattern and 'repellant . . . unclean' colour of the wallpaper in her room, which symbolizes both her incarceration and her disturbance. She becomes convinced that a woman – with whom she progressively identifies – is trapped within the wallpaper. Her husband eventually comes upon her acting this out. The story has strong Gothic elements and a clear feminist message concerning the infantilizing and constriction of women within marriage. Gilman herself had suffered a similar treatment after the birth of her daughter, counselled to have no intellectual or artistic and little social stimulus; as a result, she records, she 'came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over'. In Why I wrote the 'Yellow Wallpaper' she maintained that the story 'was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked'.

-Sarah Sceats: Kingston University, Surrey

© Cambridge University Press 1999

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