“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a brief story about mental health written in verse. It's considered to be an influential early work of American female fiction for its powerful illustration of the moral beliefs toward physical and mental health of common women of the late 19th century. It also tells the story of a young girl who has just learned that she is to marry a rich man and move to a new country with her two young sons. But her happiness is turned upside down when her mentally unstable mother urges her to kill herself instead. What follows is a beautiful and moving epic which eventually gives way to Gilman's masterpiece “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
The Yellow Wallpaper is not the first time that the mentally ill woman has seemingly committed suicide. There are several references to such cases in the works of the classic American writers including the madhouse creator H.G. Eliot and the more contemporary Madeline Greene. But what makes this story stand out from the rest of the examples is the treatment of the mother as well as the young and her relationship with her son.
In the Yellow Wallpaper, the mother of the young man suffering from mental instability constantly urges her daughter to kill herself. “You are a poor wretch,” the old woman says. “There is but one way to make your life: you must be dead.” The Yellow Wallpaper depicts the old woman's despair and the daughter's desperate attempt to comfort her mother by saying, “You have to be dead, you can't be living!”
This call to death pervades the entire story of the Yellow Wallpaper, the most important character being the mother. She consistently says, “You're going mad – come on! You can't be living when you have so many reasons to die!” In the end, the girl pushes her mother into the attic to commit suicide, just as she had done in the past when her father had committed suicide only to have his body thrown through the windows.
Aside from the callous disregard shown for the welfare of others, the Yellow Wallpaper also has a dark undertone. As a whole, the story reminds us of the modern idyllic – a world where children are tortured and killed merely because they are considered a nuisance or a freak. This dark perspective connects the Yellow Wallpaper characters to the real-world horrors of child abuse, and the resulting stains of their . . . . . . untimely deaths.
This dark vein runs through the entire novel, which the author chose to be published under its own title because it represents the tragic element of life. But in addition to being sadistic, the novel also includes a lightness that comes out of the characters' fates. In other words, the yellow wallpaper adds an optimistic sentiment to the story, making it both more comical and more meaningful. The Yellow Wallpaper characters' journey from childhood to adulthood is depicted with a kind of redemption that we can only imagine. With bright colors and the sound of a gently falling stream as the voices of the characters echo throughout the novel's crisp pages, The Yellow Wallpaper brings us great joy by forcing us to look at the brighter side of life.
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