The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Given that they are ‘ordinary’, it is quite possible that hiring this secluded ‘colonial mansion’ was something beyond their normal means and that the narrator has not been informed of this by her husband. John – although he has many defects as a character – does love his wife and, as will be seen, he is prepared to go to great lengths to make her well. As will also become clear later on, he has, in addition, a horror of mental instability, and – publicly, at least – denies that there is anything much wrong with his spouse at all.

3-5 ‘I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity—but that would be asking too much of fate!’ – Romanticism, especially in its gothic sub-genre, emphasised the cultural significance of the irrational, and it was also regarded as having fathered the egalitarian movements of socialism and feminism. On a narrative level, the narrator craves the excitement of becoming part of a gothic tale which would feed and stimulate her imagination. Such ‘felicity’, however, is assuredly beyond her grasp, but she will later provide a ghost for her ‘haunted house’ in the form of the ‘creeping woman’ she sees behind the wallpaper.

7-8 ‘And why have stood so long untenanted?’ – A further contribution to the house’s gothic credentials. It is interesting that the narrator is already subconsciously focusing on externals to express her inner mental state: the house will soon be replaced by the room, and the room by the wallpaper itself.

9 ‘John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.’ – These twelve words are laced with a great deal of meaning. For a husband to laugh at his wife could be nothing more than affectionate teasing, but the narrator’s reaction shows that she does not see it at all in this way. Firstly, ‘of course’ implies that it is a matter of course that he will laugh at her, which is both demeaning and, potentially, bullying. Secondly, this is what ‘one expects in a marriage.’ Rightly or wrongly, the narrator sees marriage as a form of power-play, in which one party – the male – can be expected to exert his authority by demeaning the other.

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman
the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

Available HERE where you can read the opening chapters.

The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul