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.


Imagine, if you will, a group of people in ancient times experiencing a natural disaster that not only cuts them off from other cultures and peoples of the world, but has a result that all males die off.    However, consider that one of the remaining women SOMEHOW finds herself pregnant and wa la!    An isolated yet progressive civilization of women survives and thrives over thousands of years.

Charlotte (daughter of  Mary and mother of  Katharine; niece of Isabella, Harriet and Catherine) imagines this female-Utopia and writes about it in Herland.

Thoughts   Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Dover Publications 1998 (originally 1915), 124 pages

MOTIVATION for READING:   For the Women Unbound Challenge.  Acquired via Bookmooch.   This might also work for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge because it is set “somewhere” in South America.    This is the first time to read this author and I can blame Litlove‘s comment at my initial Women Unbound Challenge for bringing Charlotte to my attention.

I propose (but am likely wrong) that Charlotte was at the right time (early 20th century) and place (USA) to imagine Herland.   Expeditions around the world were discovering new peoples on our planet, Science was furiously hypothesizing and proposing ideas that astounded the world and women were challenging notions of gender abilities and characteristics.

I had the epiphany thought of “Hey!   This is where the stereotype of AMAZON WOMAN must have come from!?” while reading this.

The setup was clever:    three gentleman go exploring based  on a rumor of a female-only country and this text is the journal that tells what they found.

Copied and tweaked just a bit from Wiki:

Gender and defining it is a central theme in Herland, and Gilman seems to be saying that gender is socially constructed rather than something definitive and unchangeable. For instance, the women of Herland are loving mothers, yet are also strong, independent, and, in some ways, have masculine qualities, such as having short hair.     … out of the three male leads, one seems least afraid of speaking his mind and showing his feelings. It is not unintentional that, when the three male characters are imprisoned by the Herlanders, their hair grows long, which Gilman does to symbolically link them to womenkind. Gender reversal is used throughout the novel: the women have short hair, the men have long hair; the women teach while the men learn; the women are physically stronger than the men, etc.

What I just couldn’t get over was the concept of marriage and why the men were so eager for it.  (oh yea, for the s – e – x?)   And the spontaneous pregnancy concept – even though texts exist today that explore how this may be a future possibility – was too convenient.     And my skeptical mind must protest that just because it is women, that such a society  would OF COURSE be nothing but wonderful – crime-free, disease-free, unpleasantness-free.     I guess, as I believe in HUMANS and am a proponent of love and respect for all, I still have doubts that we can escape the basest of human behaviors just be ridding the planet of one of the genders, cough-cough EXCUSE ME – the male gender.

NOT however to say that Charlotte hated men.     The women of Herland actually embrace the concept of male and study the idea of re-introducing the Y chromosome to their society and I do realize that this story was a way to highlight how HUMAN we all are and should not be labeled with weaknesses and characteristics based on gender.   So I do get it.   I just couldn’t quite suspend the disbelief.

Over all, my vote is for clever, keen and original.

Reading this and then jumping into my next book, Mrs. Dalloway, I find myself wondering what Virginia Woolf thought about Charlotte and her writings.     So excuse me while I go see where such an internet search will lead me…

Many online resources exist for you to read this online if you so desire.   Just google it.



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.