Could it be argued that Gilman intentionally uses a gothic setting to mask the true feminist themes/intention of the story "The Yellow Wallpaper" due to fear of criticism and backlash amidst the first...

Could it be argued that Gilman intentionally uses a gothic setting to mask the true feminist themes/intention of the story "The Yellow Wallpaper" due to fear of criticism and backlash amidst the first wave of feminism? Or was this fear of women writing feminist literature (such as the Bronte sisters using different names and other classical female writers making their characters conform to traditional female archetypes) abolished by this time?

Expert Answers info

D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write9,488 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

I don't think Gilman was trying to mask a feminist message under the Gothic genre. I believe this for several reasons. First, Gilman was not shy about expressing or living out her beliefs and was a prominent activist for both socialism and women's rights in her life. It is true that women still had to fear backlash at that time, but Gilman was fearless and not particularly concerned with that issue.

Second, the story is not in the least subtle or cagey about introducing a feminist theme that argues that allowing men to treat woman as imprisoned children for the sake of their mental health is a barbaric and wrong-headed practice. The story is a sledgehammer, and its power lies exactly in the impossibility of missing the point it is trying to make. There is hardly a sentence is the story that doesn't express Gilman's theme that locking the narrator in the room with the yellow wallpaper breaks her sanity. This is not Jane Eyre, sliding in an outburst a third of the way through the book about the lack of options for women and hiding a feminist subtext under a love story.

Finally, I would argue that for Gilman, the Gothic was not a cover for a feminist theme, but an expression of it. It didn't hide her feminism, but amplified it. The Gothic expresses the unheimlich or unhomelike, the violence, aggression, and coercion that lies under the bright facade of happy families, and that is precisely what Gilman hoped to illustrate.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial