Charlotte Perkins Gilman – The Yellow Wallpaper


Much has been said about this legendary short story so I definitely won’t be adding anything new but other than Sadagh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl, I have never read such an intense book about madness. The fact that this story is largely autobiographical gives The Yellow Wallpaper poignancy.

A woman who is suffering from fatigue is prescribed The Rest Cure, in which a person stays bedridden, eating fatty foods until everything is alright (cf Linda Grant’s The Dark Circle). During the protagonist’s stay in a room she becomes equally fascinated and repulsed by the wallpaper of the place. The longer she stays in bed, under the watch of her husband, the more insane she becomes by the wallpaper until she breaks free by ripping it off the wall.

The wallpaper is a metaphor for everything in this story, oppression, madness and freedom. Gilman had endured the rest cure so the descriptions of boredom and insanity are drawn from real experiences but it’s is the allegorical use of something as banal as wallpaper which makes this story powerful reading, especially the scene when the protagonist escapes her situation. Despite the mere brevity of this short story there’s a lot going on and I definitely suggest this to someone who is sceptical (like me) of the format, plus it is a great primer for people who are newcomers to feminist novels.