The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was reminded of this little piece by a fellow reviewer and while I read it way back in college, several things still stick in my mind.
First, the prevalent psychology of Freud during the time-period: This novel portrays the kind of circular thinking that could happen to anyone in that particular time and station. Any person of a protected, apparently weak, and especially underclass station could find the confines so stifling that it might break their mind. Of course, this isn't to say that every woman had it this bad, or that they had weak minds. I'm just saying that Freud pointed out something that was happening during this time-period and all of a sudden he gets catapulted into prominence for stating the blinding obvious. Going crazy was an escape.
This led to the arrival of hoards of writers, revolutionaries, men and women of all walks of life all deciding that they'd show how much they weren't influenced by Freud. There was the huge push to make things equal between the sexes.
Hell, I think that part was very healthy. Ms. Gilman was a perfect revolutionary. She showed us how insane a person could get being put into that society, under those social rules and regulations, and even made her character sympathetic.
This is one of those works where it is so much more satisfying to read when we understand where it came from. It's even worse when we understand that this was pretty much a regular part of the times.
And then, there's Oscar Wilde.
He had a speech on his deathbed (perhaps apocryphal), where he saw the ugly purple wallpaper on the wall next to his deathbed and made a pronouncement, "Either this wallpaper goes, or I go!"
And so he died.
Death by wallpaper.
Was this a commentary? Who knows. Perhaps it was a slight twist and turn in medium, a hidden knife, a big idea slammed by wit.
But then, I'm only a man, but I'm proud to say that this story sent me on a long kick of feminism literature back in college. I'm sorry to see that the whole subject is so out of vogue. The backlash backlashed and backlashed again briefly and backlashed until I'm hella unsure where the pendulum has landed. I'm pleased to see it still lives a bit in SF and Fantasy, but but the rest of the genres seem to backsliding more often than they get it right.
I mean, what the hell is a Romance novel, except a means to pigeonhole women into a narrowly confined role and teach them to stare at the pretty wallpaper? Some YA novels feature nothing but abusive and truly creep-the-fuck-out characters. Where the hell is the lost ideal of equality between the sexes? All I see these days is frustrated sexual fantasies that rely more on power plays than love.
Someone, please let me know where I can get some relief!
Anyway, I always liked this story, and it allowed me to flex my imagination and enjoy the surrealism of the literature of the day in a way a little more accessible than others of the type that I just couldn't get into as much.
It was still a mindfuq, and put into perspective, I think the novelette gave a great deal of meaning to women. People's perceptions of themselves change over time, obviously, reacting to past mistakes, past preconceptions, but as a cross-gender analysis, I have to say that no one is completely free of the wallpaper.
Anyone can be caught up in their social roles. I know I've felt as trapped as our crazy protagonist. It's not just women who have needed to gain a measure of self-awareness.
We all need to say, "Enough is Enough, Already!"
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