Charlotte Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper is a work I have seen on and off on many blogs and websites but never really got to read until now. Mental illness is a topic that I tend to gravitate towards reading about, so when I finally finished reading this short story, I wasn't disappointed. The woman in the story is suffering from a mental illness that her physician husband has diagnosed as temporary nervous depression. He doesn't listen to her suggestions or wishes but instead forces his opinions on her. She believed that working, socializing and writing would help her recover faster, but her husband worried that those activities would stimulate and excite her condition unfavorably. He therefore takes her to a summer mansion and keeps her in an airy upstairs room, and persuades her to stick to a rest treatment, in hopes of curing her. Over the next three months, we get to see the effect of this treatment on her, through her journal entries that she writes in secret.
The protagonist is oddly fascinated by the sickly yellow wallpaper in that upstairs bedroom. Initially repelled by its appearance, she asks her husband to remove it or let her move to another room, but her husband insists that she not cave into such fancies and not let the wallpaper bother her. Even though she is still creeped by it, she cannot look away from it and keeps obsessing over the patterns. She begins to imagine that she can see eyes and heads and even a woman in the wallpaper patterns.
I loved the multiple issues that were highlighted in this story. The unreliability of the narrators adds a powerful punch to the story. Most of the time, I wasn't even sure what to believe, but that didn't matter. It was very evident that she was suffering. She was obsessed by the woman in the wallpaper, and the climax was strangely disturbing.
In addition to the insight in to the mind of an ill person, we also see the imbalance of the household. John, the husband, doesn't believe his wife deserves to do anything she wished. He believes her only temporarily ill and coaxes her to listen to him. When she gives into her emotions (anger, irritation, sadness), he asks her to rein them in and to exercise self-control over her emotions. He even makes her feel that she is ungrateful for not valuing his help enough. While I don't think that he was acting out of malice in wanting to care for his wife, I do feel that he lacked respect for her as a person and a patient, and believed her weak and wanting.
I loved Charlotte's writing! Who knew you could write so much about something so boring as wallpapers. Here's a passage I kept reading because it felt lively and colorful to me, almost as if describing a vibrant personality. The "it" refers to the wallpaper pattern.
It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide--plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.
I'm glad that I finally read this really short work. This epistolary work is available in the public domain, and I actually read it via DailyLit, in under an hour. I only have one complaint and that is that occasionally the writing was so archaic and missing pronouns that I felt compelled to fill them in. On researching about this book after reading it, I learned that The Yellow Wallpaper is actually based on the author's own depression and the rest treatment that she was subjected to. In some respects, it reminded me of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.
I read this book online via DailyLit.