Short Fiction

The Yellow Wallpaper

The 19th-century treatment for postpartum depression, then called “nervous depression,” was a “rest-cure” that called for isolating a woman from her societal duties and forcing her into inactivity. Charlotte Perkins Gilman based her short story The Yellow Wallpaper on her own experience with this treatment. Written as a woman’s secret diary while locked away in a room, The Yellow Wallpaper explores both the negative attitude towards women and their health issues as well as the effects of this attitude on women. While the narrator wants to write to relieve her mind, her husband John forbids it. He denies her wishes to stay in a small, cozy room downstairs and instead confines her to an airy room in their summer house coated with an ugly, yellow wallpaper. While at first resenting the room, the narrator soon becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper, believing that there is a woman trapped behind it whom she must set free. Early readers overlooked social commentary about the treatment of women and madness to instead read the story as a straightforward, Gothic ghost story. However, Gilman’s depiction of this woman’s rapid descent into madness within her social restraints stands as an early example of an empowered female voice that gives testimony to the horrors of the female condition.

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