The Yellow Wallpaper
Both Frankenstein and ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ yield to the psychological basis of the Gothic tradition. There has been much debate over whether ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a study of madness or a literal ghost story. I have concentrated upon the view that the narrator is trapped in the limitations of her own mind as much as she is trapped on the top floor of the ancestral halls where she is staying.
When the story came out in 1892 the critics saw ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ as a description of female insanity and a Boston physician remarked that such a story should never have been written as it was “enough to drive anyone mad”.
Mary Shelley also seems aware of the psychological impact Frankenstein had, as she refers to it as her “hideous progeny. ” Frankenstein and ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ are birth myths and both focus on the trauma of afterbirth. The ‘Yellow Wallpaper’ deals with the anxieties of a woman’s social place during pregnancy.
In C19th social context, a woman would no longer be seen in terms of her mind once she had given birth, but her body. The fragmentation of the narrator’s identity occurs once she had given birth. She cannot adapt herself from an independent human being to a mother. In a birth myth, whether it is the creation of a child, monster or Mary Shelley’s own “hideous progeny” of a book, a piece of identity is committed to the work, as much as an offspring biologically contains part of its parents. Victor Frankenstein sews the limbs of his creation together with all the prudence of a mother taking care to protect and nourish her baby during pregnancy.
Ellen Goers believes that Frankenstein can be divided into three volumes, “two of them which deal with the retribution visited upon Monster and creator for deficient instant care. ” The characters see another fragment of their social identity manifested in their respective offspring. As the birth of her baby brings the woman into a state of depression and madness, Victor’s ‘birth’ of his monster makes him miserable and leads him to his downfall. Frankenstein and ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ can both be looked at biographically. Mary Shelley was only sixteen years old when her fist baby died and may have felt partly to blame.
Gilman suffered from post natal depression and much to her chagrin was prescribed, the Rest cure, like the narrator in the book. Never again did Gilman write anything with such a personal attachment as this story had, Ann J. Lane suggests that this “perhaps [because] the emotional truth and intensity of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ drained her; perhaps it frightened her. ” Today in C2Oth the story does not contain the impact that it would for women experiencing the suffocating life that Gilman led from 1860 to 1935. Prior to the C20th, men assigned and defined women’s roles.
Deborah Thomas believes that “men perpetrated an ideological prison that subjected and silenced women. ” In the case of ‘The Yellow wallpaper’, this prison is the nursery where there are barred windows and rings in the wall which the narrator suspects to be “for little children”. Gilman herself was prescribed what was known as the Rest cure by Dr Weir Mitchell, which called for complete rest, coerced feeding and isolation. In the case of Gilman and the woman in her story, women were constricted to the set parameters that men determined.
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