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Critics discuss how "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman can be read a...

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pashti | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted August 17, 2013 at 2:09 AM via web

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Critics discuss how "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman can be read a story about woman's reading and writing. Some argue that the narrator is constrained not just by the characters but by langauge; she is ultimately liberated by being able to construct a grammatical sentence without the word "John". On the other hand they say Gilman's appalling prose shows that she could at best accomplish an internalization of the conditions imposed on her by John in fiction and by Dr. S. Weir in life. Are these readings valid?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 17, 2013 at 6:23 AM (Answer #1)

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Personally, I am less convinced by the first condition and more convinced by the second. The reason is that the anonymous narrator produces sentences throughout this short story without the word "John," and also produces sentences with "John" in them right up until the end of the short story. It is clear however that John becomes more removed from her thoughts as the story progresses, but at the beginning it is what he thinks that dominates the woman's musings. Consider the following example, taken from towards the beginning of the story:

There comes John, and I must put this away--he hates to have me write a word.

This does offer proof of how John and patriarchy as a whole seem to represent a constraining force against the speaker and her desire to write, which would connect to the central theme identified in this question about women's reading and writing. However, as previously discussed, the fact that John is mentioned throughout the story, albeit with decreasing frequency, suggests that the first argument does not hold much weight.

Secondly, it is clear that the prose Gilman uses in this short story is very simple, mostly consisting of simple and compound sentences. It would be somewhat harsh to call this prose "appalling" however, and also it is equally possible to argue that the prose the speaker writes is her only means of escape, rather than another symbol of repression and entrapment. However, it could be possible to suggest that the simplicity of the prose is a result of the simple world that the narrator's husband wishes her to live in: being constrained intellectually, her prose could similarly be seen as being constrained.

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