Yellow

By Adelina Sarkisyan

“I’ve got out at last,” said I, “in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!

-Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper”

When she wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” in 1892, Charlotte Perkins Gilman had no way of knowing that it would become a classic in feminist literature. The story is an account of a woman driven to madness because of the Victorian “rest-cure,” a medical treatment employing complete inactivity, prescribed mainly to women to cure nervous conditions or hysteria. As the story progresses, the narrator begins seeing strange and menacing images in her bedroom wallpaper and ultimately believes there is a woman trapped inside, creeping around in the wallpaper, trying to get out. By the end of the story, she has ripped apart the wallpaper, freeing the woman who she then becomes one with. When her husband manages to break through the door, he faints upon seeing her. She crawls over and around him. The “rest-cure” was originally prescribed to Gilman herself, who was driven to madness temporarily and claimed to have written the story to shed light on and protest the treatment. The wallpaper is the central symbol in the story and the subject of the narrator’s eventual madness and freedom. By the end, she is literally stepping over her husband and ultimately, patriarchy itself.

I can clearly remember the first time I read “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I was a sophomore in high school and my English teacher was one of those ponytailed hippies who I liked instantly. He passed out a copy of the story and told us to read it for homework and take notes. Page after page, the story consumed me. Up to this point in my education, I had read many Gothic novels but this was the first time I had read a feminist Gothic piece. It terrified me. I’m not sure if I fully understood the symbolism or the feminist critique by Gilman, but I knew that it was one of the most powerful things I had ever read. Gilman was beyond her time and although the story wasn’t quite a feminist hit in her time, it is definitely a piece that pioneered feminist ideology. It vaguely reminds me of “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath, which follows a woman’s decent into madness as well as critiquing modern medicine and women’s roles in society. It was, however, written in 1963, seventy-one years later.

Comparing texts, not too much appears to have been changed in those seventy-one years. One cage became another; the yellow wallpaper became the bell jar. What is it called now? Has much changed since 1963? I, too, am a woman and I must shed light on the yellow wallpaper that I’ve lived in. The yellow wallpaper that coated my body—all of our bodies—began slowly peeling when I read Gilman’s story and I felt my insides crumbling along with it. Over the years, I have imagined that last scene so many times that it has become like a short film broadcasted in my head. I can see her face, her arms and legs, the ecstasy in her eyes. And why not? She is free.

In the story, she’s afraid to look out her window because of all the creeping women reminding her of her own imprisonment. She asks if they all came out of the wallpaper, as she did and I wonder: did I? Did I have to tear my life up at the roots in order to be free? Will I eventually become something like the narrator, crawling around on all fours,

basking in my salvation?And to what should I owe this freedom to? We must rip apart the yellow and find the white light underneath. We won’t be the narrator, crawling on all fours in a dusty bedroom, no; we will be winged creatures basking in our divinity. No, we are not mad; we are not nervous; we are not glass menageries filled with nothing—we are the creeping woman. And we must rip, rip, rip at our roots.

*

My bedroom has the kind of walls that have a certain texture to them. There are bumps and splats of paint that uniformly create a pattern that lines the room, floor to ceiling. If you’re not looking, they appear to be random splats of dried paint. If you are looking, it’s a jungle. I used to see faces in them constantly: faces of women and men, animals and demons. They seemed to be staring at me, reaching out, trying to tell me something. I’d instinctively reach out to them, touch their hardened shells, wondering if the heat from my fingertips would awaken their mummified bones, but they wouldn’t move. Well, not while I was looking. I’ve since stopped looking at them but they’re still there, reaching.

“I don’t like to look out of the windows even—there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?”

-Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper”

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