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? The Yellow Wallpaper? : The Life and Times of an American Woman Writer in the 1800 s The majority of the life that is known of Charlotte Perkins Gilman is concerned with her troubled and loveless relationships: with her mother, her father, and her daughter. These relationships are central to the life of Charlotte Perkins Gilman yet only somewhat relate to the incident in her life that sparked one of the greatest pieces of feminist literature ever written. To be able to relate to Gilman?
s situation and appreciate? The Yellow Wallpaper? for how it shows women? s lives is difficult in this age where women have more freedom than ever before. Gilman? s original intent in writing the story was to gain personal satisfaction from the knowledge that shows that she was right and society was wrong in the way they treated her.
But more importantly Gilman says, ? It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked? (Gilman, 20). When the story first came out in 1892 the critics saw? The Yellow Wallpaper? as a description of female insanity and mayhem instead of a story that reveals society? s values.
The thought that any woman would go against society might as well have been insane for writing it in the first place. In the time period in which Gilman lived? The ideal woman was not only assigned a social role that locked her into her home, but she was also expected to like it, to be cheerful and gay, smiling and good humored? (Lane, 109). The women who refused this role and chose a life of self-expression and freedom from the social constraints suffered ridicule and punishment from their peers. This is not unlike the repercussions that Gilman experienced throughout her lifetime from expressing her need for independence.
In? The Yellow Wallpaper? , Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote about her emotional and psychological feelings of rejection from society as a free-thinking woman. Gilman comes from a varied list of fighters for women? s rights and without having this type of influence throughout her life she would have never become the free thinker that she is famous for today. Charlotte Gilman was born on July 3, 1860, in Hartford, Connecticut to a long lineage of thinkers, writers, and intermarriages. Whether from the inbreeding or from the high intellectual capacity of the family, there was a long string of mental disorders ranging from?
manic-depressive illness? to nervous breakdowns leading from suicide to short term hospitalizations? (Lane, 110). Coming from a family of such well known feminists and revolutionaries it is no wonder that Gilman grew up with the knowledge that she had the right to be treated the same as anyone, man or woman, and was just as capable in her work and in her personal life. Having this strong background affected more than her mind set about things, it also affected the relations that she had with her husband and what role she was expected to play in that relationship. This was a major factor to her breakdown upon entering marriage with Charles Walter Stetson (Lane, intro x). From the beginning she struggled with the idea of having to conform to the?
house? model for women. She states that, ? her thoughts, her acts, her whole life would be centered on husband and children. To do the work she needed to do, she must be free? (Lane, 85). One year after her marriage on March 23, 1885, Charlotte had a daughter, Katharine Stetson, ?
But feelings of? nervous exhaustion? immediately descended upon her, and she became a? mental wreck? ? (Ceplair 17). What is commonly known as Post-Parfum Depression was the affliction that fell upon her and because doctors of the time were not skilled in female medicine all nervous disorders were associated with? hysteria?
a reference used for women with emotional problems (Ceplair, 19). Gilman? s love for free will and her work caused a major tension that was not anticipated and the stress of denying the? normal? social roles of women caused her to have a breakdown. Her writing was an effort at expressing the tensions she felt between her work, her husband, and her child.
She tried her best at beating the depression she felt but in the end she could not handle it and? collapsed? (Ceplair, 19). The doctors told her she had neurasthenia, or exhaustion of the nerves, and required the? rest cure? (Lane, 115). This treatment would be considered cruel and unusual punishment to anyone today but then it was supposed to be the best care you could get.
After a month of treatment Gilman was sent home with the instructions to? live as domestic a life as possible and never touch a pen, brush, or pencil as long as you live? (Lane, 121). For a woman of Gilman? s intellect and stamina this was an impossible feat to accomplish. She says in her diary that she? . came perilously near to losing my mind? (Lane, 121).
In her time women like Gilman were not given the opportunity to choose their career over their families, to do so meant they had to give up one or the other. Gilman did exactly that, despite the enormous amount of controversy she created she chose her work over her family. Gilman divorced her husband in 1887 and moved to California and later she gave her child to her ex-husband. In 1890 she wrote? The Yellow Wallpaper?
in reaction to society? s values. In her? Why I Wrote? The Yellow Wallpaper? ? ? Gilman describes the?
years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown? and goes on to talk about the doctor who treated her and how in response to treatment had? sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad? (Gilman 19, 20). Gilman is insistent throughout all of her interviews that this acknowledgment of her writing by her doctor is the best accomplishment that she could gain. Regardless of what she said there is and underlying tone of this work being too close to her emotional and psychological reality to be the true and only reason. There have been many studies as to what Gilman?
s intent was in writing? The Yellow Wallpaper? as Joanne Karpinski suggests, ? one theme that seems to run through all her works a desire for order and coherence in lived experience? (Karpinski, 3). Holding this theory true, then it is assumed that this work is a sorting through of her emotions and fears in her personal life. If Gilman says that it was for her revenge for her doctor she was neglecting to admit that it was also a true to life account of her emotional and psychological state.
Today, after nearly three decades of studies and analysis of both her life and her works, ? The Yellow Wallpaper? is one of the few pieces of work that Gilman ever wrote that went as deep into her emotions and feelings as she was capable of doing. Even though it is fiction the story has some dramatic similarities in Gilman?
s own life. ? The Yellow Wallpaper? is a testament to Gilman? s own life experience and in reading it there is a feeling of the tough decisions she made in her life and the impact those decisions had on her emotionally and mentally.
Gilman? s life was full of pain, emotionally and psychologically, yet she lived a very good life. Her only fear was that she would not accomplish her life? s work, and unfortunately because of her lifestyle she lived she never gained recognition for her dealings. Gilman died on August 17, 1935, by huffing chloroform, because she did not want to slowly die of cancer.
It was not until the 1970 s that Gilman? s works began to enter into the colleges and the feminist forum. She was undoubtedly ahead of her time in her every thought and action. Not until recently have critics began to study? The Yellow Wallpaper? and the more they go into the world of Charlotte Perkins Gilman the more we learn about what it was like to live an emotional and psychologically restraining society.
Ceplair, Larry. ? The Early Years. ? Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Non-fiction Reader. Ed.
Larry Ceplair. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. 5 - 19. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. ? Why I Wrote? The Yellow Wallpaper? ? ? The Forerunner (Oct. 1913): 19 - 20.
Karpinski, Joanne B. Introduction. Critical Essays on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Ed.
Joanne Karpinski. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992.
Lane, Ann J. Introduction. ? The Fictional World of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. ? The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader. Ed.
Ann J. Lane. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980. X-xviii.
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Research essay sample on Charlotte Perkins Gilman Gilman