The Yellow Wallpaper enlightens the reader on women’s health, motherhood, mental breakdown and its treatment, as well as feminism and gender relations in late 19th-century America. Though many details are changed, the story is semi-autobiographical, drawing on Gilman’s own health crisis and particularly her fraught relationship with Dr Silas Weir Mitchell – who carved a reputation for treating nervous exhaustion following his experiences as a Civil War doctor – and who was brought in to treat her in 1886. In Gilman’s own words, he drove her to “mental agony” before she rejected his treatment and began once again to write.

Gilman’s short story is a straightforward one. The narrator is brought by her physician husband to a summer retreat in the countryside to recover from her “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”. There she is to rest, take tonics, air and exercise – and absolutely forbidden to engage in intellectual work until well again. The house is “queer”, long abandoned and isolated. The room her husband selects as their bedroom, though large, airy and bright, is barred at the window and furnished with a bed that is bolted to the floor. The wallpaper is torn, the floor scratched and gouged. Perhaps, the narrator muses, it had once been a nursery or playroom.

It is the room’s wallpaper, a “repellant” and “smouldering unclean yellow”, with “sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin” that forms the centrepiece of the story. The narrator spends much of her days being cared for – and often left alone – in this room, reading, attempting to write (though the subterfuge this involved leaves her weary, she noted) and, increasingly, watching the wallpaper, as it starts to take on a life of its own.


By Hilary Marland, Professor of History, University of Warwick. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Source/ rest: theconversation.com