The Gothic literature movement began in the late 18th century with Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto” and was a derivative of the Romantic Movement. Writers of the Gothic Genre were focused on drawing on the emotions of the reader and creating an atmosphere of suspense, mystery, terror and dread. The writers also emphasized the supernatural, and how horror can be present in many everyday situations. Gothic texts also place emphasis on emotions such as agitation, hysteria, mystery, venerability, suspense and panic. Many Gothic texts are based in places that are decaying, deserted, abandoned, isolated or that have a have a history of death, war and family feuds. The short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman relates to and explores these characteristics of the Gothic Genre but not only that, is used as a way to critique the male dominated society she lived in. While not the only gothic text with feminist symbolism, I would argue that it’s certainly one of the most influential, at least when compared to the other stories we’ve read this semester.
Carol Davidson wrote a wonderful analysis on what she refers to as the “female gothic” in “The Yellow Wallpaper” which she defines as text that “centers its lens on a young woman’s rite of passage into womanhood and her ambivalent relationship to contemporary domestic ideology.” (Davidson 48) I interpreted that as her referencing the hardships women had to deal with at the time Gilman wrote this story. Gilman lived in a time where men still called the shots. This is a time when feminism was in its infancy and nowhere near as mainstream as it is today. In fact when this story was written, some publishers (who were men) refused to publish it due to the feminist message it held. (Peritz 113). Men at that time weren’t too keen on the idea of women breaking free from the chains that were holding them. Aiding the expression of the author’s feminist views are the thoughts and dialogue of the narrator. Her desire to express her thoughts and ideas breaks through even society’s toughest barriers: “I did write for a while in spite of them” (Gilman 3). As an individual woman, she feels depressed and ill until she is able to express herself through writing, at which point she feels exhausted due to the need to hide her thoughts from society and her husband. On the other hand, she feels pressured by society and obligated to stay in her husband, John’s, care: “he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more” (Gilman 4). Though her husband has removed all control and responsibility from her hands much like what a parent would do to a child, making her feel imprisoned and useless, she still feels pressured by society to worship and thank her husband for eliminating the need to think from her life. John is a textbook example of a Victorian era husband who holds absolute control over his wife. He treats her as an inferior, as seen here: “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” (Gilman 3). John sees his wife’s ideas and thoughts as laughable, never taking them seriously until it is too late to save her from madness. It is also clear from this statement that John laughs at his wife because it is what is expected by society. When her husband John says: “bless her little heart; she shall be as sick as she pleases” (Gilman 10) we catch glimpses of his almost childlike treatment of her. The use of the word “little” to describe her heart gives the image of a small body and mind to go along with it, like that of an infant. Once the narrator finally takes control of her own thoughts at the end of the story, the roles between husband and wife make some big changes. John’s role as a strong, protective husband and leader is reversed, and he becomes much like a woman himself: “Now why should that man have fainted?” (Gilman 17). Having seen his wife in a state of...
Cited: Davison, Carol Margaret. "Haunted House/Haunted Heroine: Female Gothic Closets in “The Yellow Wallpaper”." Women 's Studies 33.1 (2004): 47-75. Web. 13 Dec. 2014.
Haney-Peritz, Janice. "Monumental Feminism And Literature 's Ancestral House: Another Look At 'The Yellow Wallpaper '." Women 's Studies 12.2 (1986): 113. Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 Dec. 2014.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Champaign, Ill.: Project Gutenberg, 199. Print.
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