First published in 1892, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is written as the secret journal of a woman who, failing to relish the joys of marriage and motherhood, is sentenced to a country rest cure. Though she longs to write, her husband and doctor forbid it, prescribing instead complete passivity. In the involuntary confinement of her bedroom, the hero creates a reality of her own beyond the hypnotic pattern of the faded yellow wallpaper–a pattern that has come to symbolize her own imprisonment. Narrated with superb psychological and dramatic precision, “The Yellow Wallpaper” stands out not only for the imaginative authenticity with which it depicts one woman’s descent into insanity, but also for the power of its testimony to the importance of freedom and self-empowerment for women.
If Henry James and his The Turn of the Screw is an example of gothic horror at its best, then this extremely short novella has to be an example of how the subject of descent into madness can be written about without it becoming long winded and overly graphic.
The characters in this novella expertly reflect the role of women during the late 19th century and their position in the male dominated society in which they live. Written in the first person, this short read is the diary of a woman’s descent into madness courtesy of the ‘I’m the man, I know better attitude’ of her Husband. Only to be expected in a piece of writing of this length, no time has been wasted on giving complex back stories to the main character and her husband, which adds to the sheer desperation the reader feels coming out of the page as they read. No hint is to be given as to what kind of a woman would allow herself to be so crushed and dominated by the whims of one single person and, because of this, it is rather easy for a female reader to instil their own sense of indignation into their readings, not taking into consideration the differences in societal norms that are acceptable in the 21st versus the 19th century.
At first read it is easy to miss the impact this piece of writing has on the reader; it appears choppy and has no obvious flow to it which for some readers may be cause enough for them to disregard it as being badly written. However, due to its short length, it deserves to be re-read and then mused upon. Yes it is choppy but we are reading the writings of the descent into madness, and in this it takes on a kind of brooding presence that lingers with the reader long after they have the closed the back cover. If raw chaos could be described I would say it was in the wallpaper, and the way in which the mind can draw the most damming of things out of simple objects comes into play here. What I did find interesting, and an example of how the novella had made me think was that after reading it for the second time I watched several film shorts based on it, each being different in their interpretation of the words, but all having one thing in common; the chaos brought into one woman’s life by the wallpaper.
If you have an hour to spare and are not sure what to do with it, or don’t want to start reading a long novel, may I suggest you take a look at this. Whether or not you enjoy reading it will be based on how you interpret the words but one thing I can guarantee is that you will not forget it in a hurry.