Charlotte Perkins Gilman, better known as Charlotte Perkins Atkins Gilman, was a British author, poet, and short story writer who had immigrated to New York City. She is said to be the youngest women ever to have a book published by her own name. Her first published work was a collection of short stories called The Lovers of Altamaha. She never married and since that time, she has written over forty novels, many of which have won literary awards.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in Connecticut in what was then considered the Deep South. She may have been influenced by the slave trade and all the hardships it brought with it. She was a childhood friend of Huckleberry Finn and some of the members of his traveling party who escaped from slavery on board the Mayflower.
A quote often cited about Charlotte Perkins Gilman is “If I had a dollar for every time I heard that expression 'If you can see far, you can see close' I would have a fortune. That expression has been with me ever since.” Over the years this saying has been quoted by many writers including the late Maya Angelou. This famous passage from The Heart Mender by Maya Angelou is a classic example of the use of the semi-autobiographical short story as a means of commenting upon life experiences and opinions.
The most popular of her nonfiction works is undoubtedly The Selected Works of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The volume has been described by many readers as the definitive edition of any significant single women literary work. The book has sold over two hundred million copies worldwide, making it one of the best selling books of all time. The popularity of The Selected Works of Charlotte Perkins Gilman is attributable in part to its author's status as a feminist icon and her efforts to connect the political and personal life in her literary works. As a result, this influential American writer was able to lay the foundation for further feminist writing in the decades to come.
The themes that define The Selected Works of Charlotte Perkins Gilman are present throughout her other works, particularly in her short stories and the novelette “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The stories in this series provide a revealing insight into the life and times of this remarkable American writer. In particular, the stories concern the themes that have consistently remained important to the feminist movement of today, including the fight for women's right to choose who they mate with. Additionally, Charlotte Perkins Gilman provides a revealing glimpse into the inner workings of the political arena in both her short stories and the novelette “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
The title story in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is one of the more disturbing stories to be written about a famous American author. In this piece, Perkins Gilman offers a brutally honest analysis of how a writer can reconcile their personal trauma with the necessity of writing fiction. Perkins Gilman writes, “Life is so short: the longer you live, the shorter your life will probably be. Then why not put some of the time that you could be living doing things that would help other people, or better still giving them a hand when they need it?”
This brief fictional piece by Charlotte Perkins Gilman provides another look at the personal connection between writing and social justice. The conviction that something must be done in order to make social change is present throughout the short story. However, the writer draws an ironic twist when she reflects upon her own death. “That which was planned did not succeed,” she notes, “but what was not planned did succeed.” This is a sobering message for all who may find meaning in meaningful writing, but who find a different voice calling to them from within themselves.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” gives another look at the lives of writers and the necessity of their crafts to create meaningful change. Perkins Gilman reminds us that when the artist draws from someone else's imagination, it is not a gift; it is the exact work of another. What makes a writer stand out from the crowd is their ability to make personal connections with their audience. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a timely reminder that a writer has to keep looking, in order to see new ways of approaching art.