"The Wolf Is At The Door"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: As a child Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman knew poverty and debt intimately. Possibly as a result of her childhood experience, she became interested in economics, sociology and anthropology. Through her study of mankind's problems and the aid she gave to movements for the improvement of the status of women, she attempted to further her principal aim, which was to elevate society in general. "The Wolf at the Door" reflects the desire of the poet to draw mankind out of an innate indolence. "We are born to hoarded weariness," the poet says, and "Nothing the day can give/ Is half so sweet as an hour of sleep. . . ." Yet to yield to that inborn desire would lead to "A fate no man can dare–/ To be run to earth and die by the teeth/ Of the gnawing monster there!" To emphasize the dangerous consequences of inaction, the poet concludes her poem with the following stanza:

There's a hot breath at the keyhole
And a tearing as of teeth!
Well do I know the bloodshot eyes
And the dripping jaws beneath!
There's a whining at the threshold–
There's a scratching at the floor–
To work! To work! In Heaven's name!
The wolf is at the door!