“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a short story written in the late 1800’s about a woman with post-partum depression who becomes increasingly mad because of society’s, as well as her husband’s, repression. The critical essay “Haunted House/Haunted Heroine: Female Gothic Closets in “The Yellow Wallpaper”” by Carol Margaret Davison is an analysis of the short story, focusing on the genre of female gothic and the themes of loss of identity, self discovery, the dark side of marriage, and gender issues. In this essay I will summarize and comment on Davison’s analysis of “The Yellow Wallpaper” as well as bring in my own views on this short story. After reading Davison’s critical essay on “The Yellow Wallpaper” as well as studying and analyzing the short story myself, I agree with Davison’s analysis, and believe that reading critical essays and analysis substantially helps one to gain insight and broaden their outlook on pieces of literature.
The author explains that “The Yellow Wallpaper” is not merely categorized in the genre of gothic, but of the sub-genre female gothic. Davison goes on to state that the primary factor that makes female gothic different than gothic is that, firstly, the story revolves around a female character, and secondly, revolves around the foremost message “not all marriages are created equal.” Davison explains the difference between gothic and female gothic by explaining to the readers, “Drawing upon the Gothic genre in general, which explores the dark underbelly of modernity, the Female Gothic advances a gender-aware commentary on modern institutions by way of a point-blank portrait of domestic relations.” (Davison, 7).
There are other factors that allow a work to be considered female gothic. As for the setting, female gothic usually incorporates an estate or castle, in which the protagonist is forced to stay. The author states that female gothic will often have a theme of self discovery, as well as a loss of identity. The genre focuses on emotional growth of the protagonist, who is usually entering womanhood. It also focuses on women’s repression. Davison explains “The Yellow Wallpaper” is slightly different than most works in the genre of female gothic, as instead of an honourable and polite female protagonist, the narrator is on the verge of madness. In the story, the narrator is a young woman who has recently been married and had a child. This shows she is entering womanhood, which is an aspect the author mentions of female gothic. Another aspect I observed is the narrator’s transformation from a passive girl who feels overpowered by her husband to an aggressive woman who escapes her husband’s grip by leaving her own conscious mind. I believe she is attempting to take control by fleeing her own mind. After reading the author’s summarization of female gothic, I agree that “The Yellow Wallpaper” should be categorized in that genre, as it follows the general guidelines and basis of female gothic. Here you can find free essays database.
As Davison explains, the theme of loss of identity or process of self-discovery is brought up many times in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. One notable point the author mentions is that, even though the narrator follows her husband’s advice by not dwelling on her illness by thinking about the house instead, her feelings about marriage are projected onto the house. The author explains that the narrator is fearful of losing her respect and identity, therefore repressing her. I believe that the narrator’s identity is becoming lost in this novel because of John’s dominance. The theme of self discovery introduces a theme of transformation. I believe the transformation is the narrator’s descent into madness.
Another theme the author brings up several times is that of the dark side of marriage. The author explains the dark side of marriage as being when a woman loses her respect and identity and is thought of as her husband’s property. Davison explains that, “Under such circumstances, marriage signalled a figurative death for women.” (Davison, 9). In this short story,
the ideas of marriage and having children are thought of negatively. The author states that part of the reason the narrator loses her sanity is because she believes the world to be full of men like her husband. I believe that because of Jane’s repression, she becomes fearful of her husband, and believes him to be conspiring against her.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” focuses largely on gender issues and stereotypes. Davison explains that there is a sense of hierarchy in John and the narrator’s relationship. I believe this is exemplified by his treatment of her, for example, the way he addresses her with pet names. The author explains the polarities between John and the narrator by stating “Various historically established, gender-inflected oppositions are drawn upon as the creatively imaginative, fanciful narrator suffering from “temporary nervous depression” and “a slight hysterical tendency,” is contrasted with this extremely practical and rational husband who “has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and scoffs openly at any talk of things…”. The narrator is told by John to simply rest, and he does not allow her to work or write, causing her to write secretly. I believe that this shows the authority he has in their relationship. Another example that portrays John’s supremacy is the fact that he is the one who isolates her in order to cure her illness.
When I first read “The Yellow Wallpaper”, I believed the main theme was the repression of the narrator because of a male dominated society. I thought of the narrator as a strong female character who was overwhelmed because of her husband’s authority over her. Before reading the critique, I believed the narrator felt literally and figuratively trapped because of her husband’s control. I still believe this is the case, however, the critique has shown me more reasons for the narrator’s descend into insanity. For example, although becoming a mother may seem an innocuous and pleasurable transition to most, to the narrator it was an alarming change. And when marriage may mean comfort to most, to our protagonist it meant loss of freedom. Reading Davison’s critique of the short story introduced me to more themes that have enlarged my outlook on this story.
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