An unsettling story, to say the least. I decided to read this story because of how often I’ve heard of it. I was particularly intrigued because I was told that the narrator is highly unreliable and unstable and such narrators always pique my interest. Of course, my constant misgiving regarding the classics made me assume that it would be a boring read but I resolved to plow through it no matter what. I wanted to know what happens.
I read “The Yellow Wall-Paper” in the Penguin Classics copy of Gillman’s selected writing. It includes an introduction written by Denise D. Knight, professor of English at SUNY Cortland. I’m glad I read the introduction before reading the story because it provided some perspective. Usually, I skip introductions because they tend to give the story away and take all the fun out of puzzling it out for myself. But in this case—where the story is a tad confusing and might be hard to digest if you haven’t the patience for such a narrative—it’s good to read the introduction and get some information on the author’s background and what moved her to write such an unsettling tale.
I like Gillman. I like to assume that anyone who considers herself a feminist would like her too. I think of myself as a semi-feminist. Gillman advocated for equality in the household. She didn’t believe that the woman’s sole purpose should be that of wife and mother. A woman could be more than that or none of them, if she chose. Basically, a woman should have the free will to choose who she wants to be and how she wants to be identified. Gillman believed that society’s insistence on gender roles—man as provider and protector; woman as nurturer and domesticated—limits humanity’s ability. I wonder what she would say of the world now. “The Yellow Wall-Paper” is drawn from her own experience. She suffered from depression in her 20s after giving birth to a daughter and was prescribed bed rest, basically she was told not to do anything but lie around all day. Of course, this didn’t help her depression but made her worse. It wasn’t until she stopped with such treatments that she became better.