The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Notes on The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This set of Tower Notes is 46 pages long and is sold as a fully illustrated PDF file with footnotes.

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INTRODUCTION: SHAKING THE PATTERN FROM BEHIND.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman herself wrote that The Yellow Wall-Paper was a story written with a particular aim in mind: to challenge a medical practice widely used in late nineteenth century America to treat women suffering from nervous disorders – the famous ‘rest cure’ of Dr Silas Weir Mitchell, who was one of the more notable physicians of his time. She wrote an article entitled ‘Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper ’ for her own monthly magazine The Forerunner explaining that – after being treated by Weir Mitchell – she had only managed to recover from her own depressive illness after she had ‘cast the noted specialist’s advice to the winds’:

I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper , with its embellishments and additions […] and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it.


There is no reason to doubt Gilman’s words, but they do not reveal the most important motives she had for composing the story. Even in the text of ‘Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper ’, she makes a point of referring proudly to a letter sent her by a physician she believed to be from Kansas, who described her tale as ‘the best description of incipient insanity he had ever seen’. He would not be the last reader to come to a similar conclusion: The Yellow Wall-Paper is widely recognised today as a minor masterpiece – one of a comparatively small number of broadly ‘gothic’ stories that can be described as such. It is inconceivable that Gilman could have written such a fine piece of work and not been determined, as she did so, to describe a human being’s descent into lunacy in the most convincing and original manner of which she was capable – and, hence, it is hard to escape the notion that she wrote The Yellow Wall-Paper as much out of literary ambition as to change the mind of Silas Weir Mitchell.

It is equally clear, too, that Gilman had other aims of a social and political nature – though, unsurprisingly perhaps, she doesn’t allude to these openly in ‘Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper ’. It is, however, possible to demonstrate the importance of these social and political elements by examining in more detail the relationship between The Yellow Wall-Paper and Dr Weir Mitchell’s rest cure.

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman