While I normally write reviews for full novels or novellas, I thought it was terribly unfair to leave out some of the best works of literature because they are classified as short stories. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” tackles two of my favorite subjects: feminism and madness.
The story opens with the narrator enlightening the readers with her current situation – she is “unwell” and her husband John is acting as her caretaker, prohibiting her from doing activities that will cause too much excitement. The narrator reveals she is keeping a journal for her own peace of mind and to exercise some control over her situation. As time goes on, the narrator becomes infatuated with the yellow wallpaper in her room. Infatuation soon turns to obsession, causing detriment to the narrator as well as those caring for her. While I won’t spoil the ending, Gilman toys with some early metaphysical ideas with the narrator and the wallpaper.
Though this is a short and simply written story, it is a powerful tale. Gilman immediately familiarizes the reader with the narrator’s predicament, leaving them confused as to whether or not she is truly mad. The relationship between the narrator and John exploits the notion of woman as men’s property during the late nineteenth century. Throughout the story I kept examining John and tried to see his perspective. By the end of the story, readers will have a different opinion of John than from the start.
While John is an interesting character, the narrator is unbelievably complex. Gilman utilizes multiple literary tricks in regard to the narrator, including unreliability, sympathy and empathy. Most importantly, she is very obscure in her descriptions. Gilman chooses not to name her narrator, making her everyone and no one at the same time. This device symbolically shows the position of all women at this point in history; they had no agency in marriage or life in general. This is a great short story. It is dark and suspenseful in such a personal way that it is more haunting than most of today’s suspense novels. Though the story was written in 1892, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a timeless tale.