‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman, 1892

The magic trick:

Perfectly building tension as the narrators condition worsens

It’s not really fair to close Halloween week here at SSMT with “The Yellow Wallpaper.” After all, restricting this story to the genre of spooky thriller is a little like calling “Moby Dick” a damn swell action-adventure novel.

Still, I think that side of the story is the magic trick I want to explore. Of course, the story is a hallmark of American feminist literature – devastatingly restrained and sarcastic. But I think it is important to appreciate it as, yes, a straight-up haunting tale.

It reminds me of Henry James’ “A Turn Of The Screw,” in the way the narrator is presented as fairly normal and reliable at the outset only to descend into madness (or at least perceived madness). That gradual descent is the magic trick I most admire here. The narrator’s psychological voice is never anything but completely believable and the result is truly horrifying. That horror, of course, is what allows the feminist point to be brought home even stronger. And that’s quite a trick on Gilman’s part.

The selection:

Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was.

John is so pleased to see me improve! He laughed a little the other day, and said I seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wallpaper.

I turned it off with a laugh. I had no intention of telling him it was because of the wallpaper – he would make fun of me. He might even want to take me away.

I don’t want to leave now until I have found it out. There is a week more, and I think that will be enough.


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