Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Charlotte Perkins Gillman (1860-1935)
Contributing Editor: Elaine Hedges
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Students respond well to "The Yellow Wall-Paper." They like the story and don't have serious difficulty understanding it, and they enjoy discussing the meanings of the wallpaper. They may, however, oversimplify the story, reading the ending either as the heroine's victory over her circumstances, or her defeat. Have students choose and defend one or the other of these positions for a classroom debate (with the aim of showing that there is no easy resolution). Students might also want to debate (attack or defend) the role of the husband in the story. Background information on medical treatment of women, and specifically white, middle-class women, in the nineteenth century, especially Dr. S. Weir Mitchell's "rest cure" (mentioned in the headnote) is useful. Naive students sometimes wonder why the woman in the story can't just leave; they need to understand the situation of white, middle-class married women in the nineteenth century: The censure against divorce, and their limited opportunities in the paid labor force. "Turned," like "The Yellow Wall-Paper," deals with the situation of women inside marriage, but it offers a wife who takes matters into her own hands and recreates her life. The two stories can thus be profitably compared and contrasted. Significant differences, of course, include the greater freedom (she is childless) and professional training (she can support herself) of the wife, Mrs. Marroner, in "Turned." Gilman, in her major sociological work, Women and Economics, argued that only economic independence would release women from their subordination within marriage, and Mrs. Marroner is an example of this thesis. One might note the changes in her attitude toward Gerta, from a class-biased one to one of female bonding. "Turned" is also noteworthy as a frank treatment of an issue--an employer's sexual abuse of a female domestic--that wasn't openly...
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