The Yellow Wallpaper


I was fortunate to substitute teach for a High School English class this past week and one of the exercises was to read and discuss the short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.     It IS short; I was able to easily read it during the lunch break and was eager to see what the students would bring up to discuss on the next day.     It was wonderful to have a bit of overlap, of continuity when I sub – usually it is a quick glimpse into a big work of literature and …   that’s it.

Since I had the next day to look forward to, I printed off Nymeth’s review and the article of CPG’s “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper”.   I read the last piece to the class before we dove into discussion.   The other part, I just left in the folder for the teacher.

Some of the class thought it was boring.    Some were confused as to the ending.   It was delightful to see the respect and acknowledgement given to classmates when one would share their thoughts and another would say ‘Thank you.  I hadn’t thought of that.”  or “Oh, I didn’t see that; now I get it.”    Can you tell I was very impressed with the quality and consideration that these ‘kids’ exhibited?    I got a big sense of how wonderful it is to be a teacher.

The word ‘creepy’ came up a lot.     They were a bit more sympathetic to her husband than I was.   “He was only a product of his times.”   I think they may be overloaded on the century-old female protagonist topic;   they had papers due on Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and we had a lively discussion comparing the two fates of these women.  What they had in common and what they didn’t.    [They offered that Edna had more control over her situation.]

OK, so if you don’t know [it’s available online for free at gutenburg] what TYW is about, I guess I better tell you just a bit.    It is the secret journal writings of a woman in Victorian times who has been advised to ‘rest’; she is suffering from ‘nerves’.   She should not stir her imaginings by writing, reading or doing anything ‘intellectual’ since, of course, we all know that woman shouldn’t do such things!   Her husband is her physician and she respects and trusts him as a good wife and patient should.  But…    Well, she really hates the wallpaper.      He won’t change it since they are only there for a short stay – she IS getting better, yes?   and she would only find something else that bugs her, anyway…

It is creepy.    It is light, sometimes humorous.   Wonderfully written, pacing is perfect, packs quite a punch!    Our narrator/protagonist both understands (or says she does) the treatment and revolts against it (and that is why she is said to be an unreliable narrator?)   If ONLY they had changed that awful wallpaper!!   It is an astonishing look at what women were put through back before anyone understood such things as mental illness and postpartum depression.     And it is an example of the spirit of Ms. Gilman for writing it.

So many terrific covers, too!   

REVIEWs:    Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot, SSM Guest Review at, Aarti at BookLust, and MORE! results courtesy of Fyrefly’s Book Blog Search.

WORDS:   incipient – in an initial stage; beginning to happen or develop.     “Another physician […] wrote to say that it was the best description of incipient insanity he had ever seen…” From CPG’s “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper”

I thank the Women Unbound Challenge for introducing me to Charlotte Perkins Gilman.    I also read Herland for this challenge.


Copyright © 2010. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

40 thoughts on “The Yellow Wallpaper

  1. I have this on one of my many TBR lists (I think this shows how disorganised I have been lately, I cannot even remember which list, I think it is my classics project one). Your post made me impatient to read it, so I guess I will have to connect my ereader and use Gutenberg again 🙂

  2. We study this all the time in my lit courses. I love the story and think it offers up a wealth of material to discuss. It sounds like you had a great group of high schoolers; the last time I presented at a high school, I wanted to curl up and cry – it was a bad group of students – so I’m happy to know there are awesome high schoolers out there!

    1. I felt a bit lost and out of my league trying to drop points for discussion. I was both amazed at how wonderful they were to share some really good things and also sad that they didn’t bring up other stuff. I was a tad overwhelmed. I enjoyed the day’s before conversation when I didn’t know the story at all so I could really listen and not try to influence, ya know?

    1. Amy, you will love this story, I have no doubt. And once you get to it, you’ll wonder what took you so long. But maybe we read what we need to read when we read it. (sounds like that “nice to be nice to the nice” quote from M.A.S.H)

  3. This is one of my all time favorite short stories…I’ve read it so many times for various classes in school and I never did tire of it…I always got excited about reading and discussing it again 😀 Go you for bringing the conversation and stimulating those kids’ minds 😀

  4. I read this more than once in college, and I think it’s time for a re-read. Serena has a horror anthology and this story is included; we were wondering about that, but it’s probably due to the creepy factor, which I don’t remember because I read it ages ago.

  5. I love the word “incipient”. And this story. I read it as a duty read – I felt like it was such an Important Feminist Text, so I printed it off the internet and read it during class the next day – and I loved it so much. I wanted to stop class and scream at everyone about how amazing it was. (But I couldn’t. I was supposed to be learning about Marxist literary criticism.)

    1. Jenny, you YOU are the coolest book blogger ever. I would be thrilled to meet you someday. Maybe in January I will come to NYC and stalk you. Hee hee. (really, I am harmless. But I suppose ‘they’ all say that…

        1. (1) YOU are the coolest book blogger ever and you SHOULD come to NYC in January. You would not have to stalk me. I would tell you where I would be.

          (2) Of course you can bring your puppy. I love puppies.

          (3) How a Marxist would practice lit crit.

  6. I found a pile of books by the dumpster last year. The volume pictured was a replica of one of the books. I rescued it because I have fond memories of reading it in Women In Literature class.

  7. KB

    And knowing the “kids,” it must have been his AP course. WONDERFUL kids!!! I would have loved to be there for that discussion comparing TA with TYWP.

  8. chandragarbanzo

    I remember studying this one too, and I agree with the ‘creepy’ verdict. It really does provide a lot of discussion options. What good timing that you were able to sub on such an interesting day.

  9. I had forgotten this one–I read it in high school, I think. I’ll have to reread it, though, because I can’t remember how it ends.

    Glad you enjoyed your subbing job!

  10. I didn’t know it was available freely on the internet. Thats great since I did not find this book in the library.

    It must have been great to discuss the book with such bright and polite students.

  11. I really enjoyed this story! I also have encountered the whole “product of their times” excuse by many people and weirdly (disturbingly, in some ways?) it comes up more with younger people than with old. As though they are willing to forgive people their ways just because they lived in a different era. I think that’s too much a blanket response for me.

    1. Sometimes I wonder if ‘kids’ are so ‘nice’ and hate to think little of others or be critical because they are spending their entire time thinking bad about themselves. ugh. I was sad how many of them introduced their own thoughts by putting themselves down, “I’m sure this is wrong, but I thought ___”

  12. Pingback: End of Year Thoughts on 2010 Reading « Care's Online Book Club

Welcome! I invite you to comment. If for some reason commenting is troublesome, pls send email to BkClubCare [at] Gmail

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s