Charlotte Perkins Gilman ( ) and “The Yellow Wallpaper”
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1 Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) and “The Yellow Wallpaper”
2 I. Her life born in Hartford, Conn.,1860 her father deserting the family, which thereafter lived in frequent movement and in near povertystudying two years at Rhode Island School of Design,marrying Charles Stetson, 1884bearing her first daughter and suffering from postpartum depression, 1885beginning treatment with Dr. Weir Mitchell, 1886separating from Stetson and coming to California, 1888getting divorced with Stetson, 1894marrying George Houghton Gilman and beginning to live in NY, 1900moving from NY to Norwich, Conn., 1922diagnosed with breast cancer, 1932moving to California and living with her daughter after George’s death, 1934taking her own life, 1935
7 *The inspiration: Charlotte’s postpartum depression the “rest cure” prescribed by Dr. Mitchellfrom confinement to near insanity
8 *Comments“‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is a rich and intensive feminist analysis of thenorms of a patriarchal culture.”“The story is a superb dramatization and relentless indictment of the oppressions imposed on women by a patriarchal culture.”“‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is a presentation of how a woman undergoes mental deterioration and finally loses her reason in the course of a rest cure, prescribed for her depression.”“Feminists now see the story as an unapologetic protest against society’s subjugation of women and praise its thematic depth.”
12 IV. Who’s behind the Bars IV. Who’s behind the Bars? —A Deconstructive Reading of “The Yellow Wallpaper”
13 Introduction1. Sanity and Insanity2. Freedom and Bondage3. Male and FemaleConclusion
14 IntroductionOne of Jacques Derrida’s major strategies in invalidating logocentrism is to subvert the numerous binary oppositions—like truth/error, speech/ writing, and male/female—which are essential structural elements in logocentric language. Such oppositions constitute a tacit hierarchy, in which the first term functions as privileged and superior and the second term as derivative and inferior. By subverting this hierarchy, Derrida refutes what he calls an “ultimate referent”—a self-certifying and self-sufficient ground, available to us totally outside the play of language itself, that is directly present to our awareness and centers the structure of the linguistic system, and as a result suffices to guarantee the coherence and determinate meanings of any spoken and written utterance within that system.
15 Thesis statement:“The Yellow Wallpaper,” by a play of internal counter-forces, disseminates into a range of self-conflicting significations and its meaning is not so determinate as to justify an unequivocal feminist reading.
16 1. Sanity and Insanity1) The narrator may be insane in the first place:A. She is not able to know her sickness;B. She feels the old mansion haunted and hateful;C. She begins to see illusions from the very start.2) The narrator may remain sane throughout:A. She keeps her diaries in neat order;B. Her acts on the last day are well planned and strategicConclusion for Part 1: the distinction between the narrator’s sanity and insanity is not so clear as most readings have tried to reveal.
17 2. Freedom and Bondage1) The story dramatizes the theme of women being suppressed and struggling for freedom:A. The narrator sees underneath the wallpaper a woman behind bars;B. She sets the woman free by stripping off the wallpaper.2) The story is not a celebration of women’s liberation:A. The narrator enjoys considerable freedom at first;B. She is not really free ultimately.Conclusion for Part 2: Freedom and bondage are relative and intertwined in the story, there being no marked boundaries between them.
18 3. Male and Female1) Gender differences give rise to the tension between the couple:A. John is a physician, works in town, and occasionally assumes supremacy over his wife;B. The narrator has to stay at home and accept the rest cure.2) Gender roles are not fixedly delineated and allow of change:A. Jennie performs John’s function in his absence;B. John behaves as a woman by fainting and collapsing onto the floor.Conclusion for Part 3: The frontier between genders is not easy to pin down and it may be transgressed.
19 Conclusion:The warring forces of signification within “The Yellow Wallpaper” make almost impossible a convenient and correct reading of it; rather, it is capable of various interpretations. The text’s treatment of the three pairs of binary oppositions may suggest, among others, that the very demarcation between sanity and insanity is arbitrary and all humans are sane and insane at once, that freedom and bondage are inseparable and absolute freedom is unavailable to mankind, and that gender tensions are not so difficult to ease and erase as those between people at large. Viewed in this respect, the story is more of a presentation of humanity’s dilemma than a feminist one and the woman the narrator sees behind the bars may as well be any other human being.