Books 22 Jun 2007 08:23 am

“The Yellow Wallpaper”

My wife is taking a literature course this summer, so I have been reading many of the stories on her syllabus. It is like visiting with old friends, some whom I see quite often (”The Tell-Tale Heart” and “Harrison Bergeron”) and some whom I see less frequently (The Metamorphosis).

One story I have seen with new eyes is “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a wonderfully creepy tale about a woman’s descent into madness. I never knew so much of it was autobiographical until I read the material that accompanies the story in my wife’s textbook.

Gilman wrote this New Gothic horror story as a reaction to a “rest cure” prescribed by a doctor to treat her depression. The cure appears terribly sexist, with implications that women should not indulge too much in intellectual pursuits.

Responding to an inquiry as to why she would write a story that might drive readers mad (it is powerful), Gilman responded, “It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.”

While fictional, the story does name a real doctor, Weir Mitchell (1829-1914), who treated the author. According to Perkins, she later sent the story to him and never received a response, but heard years later that he had altered future treatments because of it.

That puts Gilman squarely in the company of other social reformers who have changed the world for the better through their writing, including Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Mark Twain (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) and John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath).

Not bad for a humble horror story. Because it is in the public domain, you can read it free here, or do a Google search for the title.

3 Responses to ““The Yellow Wallpaper””

  1. on 12 Feb 2008 at 1.gizzy said …


    i live in england and i currently attend college. in my english class we are doing the Yellow Wallpaper as part of our coursework. as i see that you really understand the story and think it is a horror story i was wondering if you could help me with my coursework. the question is…

    In light of critical opinions, how far do you consider “The Yellow Wallpaper” to be a ‘horror story’?

    so have i have wrote this much as part of my answer

    In the opening paragraph of the Yellow Wallpaper it gives the reader a hint into the story being some sort of a horror story. The story starts by describing the “colonial mansion” and calling it “a haunted house”.

    i was woundering if you could help me by givin my some guidelines on which points in the story i could touch on and talk about as being a horror story.

    i am sorry about taking up your time and hope you get back to me as soon as possible it would mean alot to me =]

  2. on 28 Feb 2008 at 2.Maria said …

    Hi, Im a junior in high school and we just read this story and i have to do an essay on this story too, but to help you out with what else is a horror in the story read on:

    1. the part where the narrator sees a women ‘behind the bars’ in the wallpaper and ‘creeps’ around the room but only at night.

    2. towards the end of the story the narrator also states that she too ‘creeps’ around but only by day so she locks the doors .. i believe is was something like that she said.

    3. at the end she reveals her real name as Jane and kind of thinks of herself being different than who she was before (Jane) now after the isolation.

    4. she also peals off sections of the wallpaper so that John (her husband) wont ever put her back behind the bars in the wallpaper.

    Just remember .. she’s always talking about the wallpaper.. if you really think about it deeply. Do you get what i mean?

    Hope that helped .. now i got to go finish my paper on this story!

  3. on 28 Feb 2008 at 3.Maria said …

    The following goes to #3.

    another words.. shes in her world… Jane is a totally different person.

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