How does Gilman use the power and tranformative function of writing and story telling?"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his critical essay,"Gilman's Gothic Allegory: Rage and Redemption in 'The Yellow Wallpaper'," Greg Johnson writes,

...her story adroitly and at times parodically employs Gothic conventions to present an allegory of literary imagination unbinding the social, domestic, and psychological confinements of a nineteenth-century woman writer.

Thus, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's narrator and her confinement for a "rest," become an extended metaphor for the Victorian society's femme convert law and its subjugation of women, both mentally and physically.  Through such techniques as irony--

He [John] says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, ant that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency--

....Dear John!  He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick.  I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia--

satiric and incongruous humor--

He [her husband] is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.

...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.

....How those children did tear about here!

This bedstead is fairly gnawed!

as well as repetition about the wallpaper and its pattern as well as what John says, Gilman manipulates the text so that the reader becomes sympathetic to the narrator and skeptical of the solicitude of the symbols of patriarchy, John and his sister, as well as Dr. S. Weir Mitchell who proscribes the "rest-cure" for the narrator. Gilman develops her narrator's increasing subjectivity and transmutes the story from one of a woman's "nervous depression" to an expression of repressed rage against a patriarchal society.  That the narrator feels herself engaged in an act of redemption from the suppression of her husband is evinced in the religious imagery of resurrection from the paper and psychological rebirth as the narrator crawls about the floor like an infant.

By writing furtively in her journal, the narrator attempts to save herself.  This secret diary records the narrator's observations, but it also becomes an artistic expression of her soul that moves inward, just as she tries to go behind the paper and save the woman barred inside.  Her unrelenting parodic humor expresses the narrator's increasing rage so long repressed.  Through her journal writing, the narrator reclaims her soul, her independence.  Rather than surrendering power, the narrator seizes it and, as Johnson writes, "is thus left alone, the mad heroine of her own appalling text" for others to sympathize with and perceive the dangers of controlling relationships. 


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The Yellow Wallpaper

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