One morning a couple weeks ago, I woke up super early, well before the kids were up and I decided to take a long, hot, relaxing bath. I needed company, and it was in the midst of that last reading slump, so I picked out this slim little volume and took it with me. I really had no idea what it was really about, just that it was an important work in feminist literature and that Ana liked it, which is always good enough for me. My bath was a little bit longer than usual, because I had to finish this tight, breathtaking work of genius before I got out.
Seriously y’all, this may well be the best short story I have ever read.
I’m struggling with how much to give away of the story. I like that I came into it completely blind. I like that I didn’t know what to expect, yet I want to make everyone I know want to read this story without saying “Hey, it’s short, it’s good, go read it for goodness sake!” And then, there is that other side, that wants to discuss every little thing about the story, down to the symbolism, plot, characters, etc, etc, etc. Oh stop me now. Let’s just start with a bare-bones synopsis, shall we?
The unnamed narrator and her husband John are “vacationing” in a colonial mansion for the summer. I say vacationing because really, they are there to help Her get better. No, she’s not sick, per say, she’s more… well… has a “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency….” They (being her husband and also her doctor. Her husband is also a doctor.) insist on medicating her with all the various “remedies” of the day and they also prescribe rest. Lots and lots of rest. Rest with rest with a hearty helping of REST. They forbid her to work. What is sad, in my mind, is that not only does she go along with their “prescription,” she does it against her own better judgment.
Personally…that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. But what is one to do? I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal – having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.
The men in her life lead her to believe that they know what’s best for her. How irritating!
I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus—but John says the very worst thing I can do is think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad. So I will let it alone and talk about the house.
The couple takes up residence in the house, and takes possession of the uppermost room, a large room that was once the nursery. And said nursery has, you got it! Yellow Wallpaper.
The color is repellent, almost revolting: a smoldering unclean yellow… dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.
And her husband constantly leaves her alone in there! With NOTHING to do, no way to entertain her mind, but only to REST. Rest damnit, rest. It is in this room, with its repellent wallpaper, that She spends all her time. She becomes absorbed in the wallpaper, spends countless hours mesmerized by the many patterns, tints of yellow, and Things she sees in there. And it is here that Gilman’s talent truly becomes very apparent. With infinite care, careful prose, Gilman portrays a quick and sure pathway to madness that is as sure as it is terrifying. Not a word is wasted, not an image undefined, Her story is perfectly rendered.
There are things in that paper which nobody knows but me, or ever will.
Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day.
It is always the same shape, only very numerous.
And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder—I begin to think—I wish John would take me away from here!
As I said, this is a very important work of feminist literature, something I managed to get out of college (with a degree in English no less) without having much exposure to. I can see why this would have been a controversial work however. I couldn’t help but leave this work without feeling a complete abhorence for the husband, Her brother, and even John’s sister, who helps take care of our Delicate patient. And the resolution! Ah! Okay, Heather, shut up. Oh my goodness. I have myself wanting to read it again and probably will very soon. I can only hope I’ve managed to do the same to you. Go on, try it. I read it in an hour. Please? I promise, you won’t be disappointed.