CHARLOTEE PERKINS GILLMAN
THE YELLOW WALLPAPER (1892)
The cult of true womanhood defined women as “ladies”(pure, diligent). When we talk about American woman, we have to specify their religion, sexual orientation, race, social class (it is therefore essentialist to talk about “women” in general. Depending on the group which they are in, certain coordinates are applicable. The Yellow Wallpaper is about a white, protestant, heterosexual woman at the end of the 19th century in the higher middle class. Gilman wanted to obtain more freedom and in order to do so, she had to rebel against the most important institution oppressing her: MARRIAGE. (1) Nowadays, the typical happy family is outdated and doesn’t exist. Gilman lived at a time when the perfect family was imposed on women (spinsters and bachelors were frowned upon in protestant society). The upper class women were brought up with the sole aim of being good housewives and mothers. The idea of a woman reading a book was frowned upon in society and they were only encouraged to read moralising and exemplary tales (eg. The angel in the house).
Young girls were accompanied by a “chaperone”, who had the role of looking after and policy them.
The Yellow Wallpaper takes place in a Victorian house and attic which used to be a nursery. Spaces in the house were GENDERED (some spaces were meant for men and some for women: kitchen, sitting room for women and library for men. The upper stories of the house become a gothic territory: THE ATTIC = discarded things
This space is exploited from a literary point of view, whereby women who don’t fit into the cult of true womanhood are enclosed /imprisoned (= old object that doesn’t work). The most important example of this is JANE EYRE (Mrs. Rochester is locked in the attic and dies in a fire so Mr. Rochester could Marry Jane, even though he became blind/She is imprisoned due to the colour of her skin. The husband can´t show her). This is a literary image and symbol to represent the fact that women become part of the trash in the attic, not valid for anything.
In the Yellow Wallpaper, the fact that the attic used to be a nursery is significant. Her husband is a doctor. The story is written in the 1st person: apparent diary, which depicts/reports the protagonist´s descent into madness. Language tries to recreate her mental breakdown. (Any woman in 19th century who might have shown a rebellious attitude to the patriarchal culture was considered to be mad).
The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story. The woman in the ex-nursery is .......... . Everything that happens in the story must be understood figuratively. The doctrines (cult of true womanhood) that constructed what a woman was at the time are “cultural constructs”. Even children are culturally constructed. Our identity is changeable and flexible according to our context. Marriage is another social construct/fought against feminists. The nursery becomes a symbol of the attic (madwoman in the attic), in which women become invisible.
___________________________ *BOSTON MARRIAGES”two women lived together all of their lives, but were not considered as lesbians (society simply recognised the fact that women could live together and help each other). Homosexuality wasn’t recognised officially and would only be at the end of the 19th century. Oscar Wild was the 1st homosexual who was openly out. (1) Marriage is not an imprisonment for everybody. For white middle-class women in US it was a chance to legitimise them in society, while black women weren’t allowed to get married.
How can she find a way to express herself? She writes on the wallpaper, because that´s the only paper left. Fashion the way we dress tells others about who we are: we are who we dress. We are guided by people who tell us what is in fashion and in the 19th century high class women were advised to wear certain outfits: corsets were...
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