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.
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”