"The Yellow Wallpaper" & Feminist Theory
It's been a long time since I posted on here. Perhaps now that I'm on summer break, I can post more often. Since I have last posted, I have successfully finished a crazy remote/hybrid school year and have completed three grad school classes in English/Creative Writing. I found this last assignment particularly enlightening and wanted to share my work with you. It's just a discussion post, but if you're an English or writing nerd, like me, you may enjoy it!
Image of The Yellow Wallpaper. Courtesy of Google Images
This was my assignment: Select a passage from either "The Story of an Hour" or "The Yellow Wallpaper" and analyze it using a feminist approach. You must choose a different passage from the one discussed in the module overview. Your analysis may center upon the theme of gender identity, marriage, sexuality, illness, or madness/hysteria, or you may select another feminist theoretical concept of interest to you.
Kevin Excerpt from "The Yellow Wallpaper": John says if I don't pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.
But I don't want to go there at all. I had a friend who was in his hands once, and she says he is just like John and my brother, only more so!
Besides, it is such an undertaking to go so far.
I don't feel as if it was worthwhile to turn my hand over for anything, and I'm getting dreadfully fretful and querulous.
[I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time.]
Of course I don't when John is here, or anybody else, but when I am alone.
I'm getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper.
It dwells in my mind so!
I lie here on this great immovable bed--it is nailed down, I believe--and follow that pattern about by the hour. It is as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we'll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion.
I know a little of the principle of design, and I know this thing was not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of.
It is repeated, of course, but he breadths, but not otherwise.
The whole thing goes horizontally, too, at least it seems so, and I exhaust myself in trying to distinguish the order of its going in the direction.
They have used a horizontal breadth for a frieze, and that adds wonderfully to the confusion.
It makes me tired to follow it. I will take a nap I guess.
[I don't know why I should write this.
I don't want to.
I don't feel able.]
And I know John would think it absurd. But I must say what I feel and think in some way--it is such a relief! ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
There are actually a number of components of feminist theory that surround this short story, but the main one that makes this story so chilling is the focus on the main character's struggle with madness and hysteria. This excerpt is from early in the story before she has completely lost control of herself, and we can infer from her relationship with her husband John that her social role as a subservient housewife could be to blame for her descent into madness. Author Phyllis Chesler writes that there is a "psychiatric bias and oppression" toward women, and we see it here as the perfect example when the woman narrator informs us, "John says if I don't pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall" (Chesler 1, Perkins 5). In conducting some background information on Weir Mitchell, Mitchell served as a contract surgeon known best for developing a "rest cure" for women suffering from hysteria, which meant "six to eight weeks of isolation, bed rest, a high-calorie diet, massage, and electrotherapy" (“Beyond ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: Silas Weir Mitchell, Doctor and Poet"). The ironic thing here is that our female narrator received this 'therapy' anyway by being locked up in her room and growing in her hysteria. Reverting back to what John said though, the narrator did not have a voice in this decision. He makes the decision for her on if she is going to see Mitchell or not, despite her saying that she does not want to go there at all.
Moving onward in the excerpt, you see how she tries to repress her emotions around her husband. "[I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time.] Of course I don't when John is here, or anybody else, but when I am alone (5). Her inability to express herself around a man is similar to the "Story of an Hour" passage where she indicates a "suppression of intelligent thought" (Chopin 1). This echoes this madness and hysteria theme in how women play a silent role in society.
Finally, by the last sentence in this passage, we see a confirmation of just how silent the narrator is expected to feel on her mental state. "And I know John would think it absurd. But I must say what I feel and think in some way--it is such a relief!" (Perkins 6). This interpretation of the story from her relationship with her husband makes more sense about why she descends into such a manic state as the story progresses. She has no one to communicate with except her room and the yellow wallpaper.
Chesler, Phyllis. “Women and Madness.” Phyllis-Chesler.Com, 13 Oct. 2005, phyllis- chesler.com/articles/women-and-madness.
Chopin, Kate. “Commitment to Privacy.” Virginia Commonwealth University, 1894, archive.vcu.edu/english/engweb/webtexts/hour.
Nyamhistorymed. “Beyond ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: Silas Weir Mitchell, Doctor and Poet.” Books, Health and History, 8 Apr. 2016, nyamcenterforhistory.org/2016/04/08/ beyond-the-yellow-wallpaper-silas-weir-mitchell-doctor-and-poet.
Perkins Gilman, Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Literary Cavalcade, vol. 53, no. 8, May 2001, p. 14. EBSCOhost, search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?