Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in Hartford, Connecticut on July 3, 1860. From the day of her birth, she was a woman ahead of her time. In 1890, she wrote The Yellow Wallpaper a story about a woman who was oppressed by her husband and her illness. This, Gilman's most famous work, was written from her own experience in life. In 1884, Charlotte Perkins married Charles Walter Stetson and had one daughter. Following the birth of her daughter, she was greatly depressed and took a therapeutic 3 month trip to California.
Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell was consulted in 1884 by Mr. Stetson to treat his wife for what was then called hysteria. Dr. Mitchell's treatment involved complete isolation and the removal of anything that might cause 'mental stimulation,' and so Charlotte spend her 3 months isolated in a room in a large country estate, estranged from her daughter and husband. Following her divorce from her husband in 1894, Charlotte Perkins Stetson became a committed social activist and feminist. Later, in 1900, she married her first cousin, George Houghton Gilman.
It is believed that this was a marriage of convenience, allowing Charlotte to concentrate on her writings by not being in a marriage that involved love and duty, but mutual respect. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote primarily of the suppression of women. She experienced as a child many restrictions imposed by her mother, estrangement from her father because of her parents divorce at a young age, and the disappointment with not having the freedom to grow as a person while married to Stetson. She wrote of what she knew and experienced. In The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator is a woman who has been diagnosed with a 'temporary nervous depression.
' Because of her condition, she is restricted by her doctor and her husband from all types of intellectual stimulation. Just like Gilman, the narrator is sent to a large, old country estate for 3 months in the summer to rest and relax, forbidden to write. Throughout the story, she is inside a room with yellow wallpaper. Just as women must do, she had given up on staying in a sunny room downstairs when her husband had dismissed her plea with so much as consideration. She sees patterns in the paper that look like bars and behind the pattern she sees women. The front pattern does move -- and no wonder!
The woman behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over. Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard. And she is trying to climb through that pattern -- it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads. (299) In these women, the narrator is seeing herself, but she does not yet know it.
The bars are society, the women behind the bars are women like Gilman trying to break free and be strong and independent. Society and men are keeping these women down and strangling them. In the 'very bright spots,' the woman keeps still, and in the darker places she is trying hard to escape. This represents the narrator's position by that time, when she had to be limited to the house's duties and she was not allowed to develop herself as an equal as men did.
The narrator finds her solace in her imagination, seeing people out in the garden, and wanting to write. She is writing this narrative while her husband is at work, and her sister-in-law is busy cleaning the house. However, the males in the narrator's life and in Gilman's life try to suppress this behavior, ultimately driving the female insane instead of helping her. The males in the story as well as in Gilman's life see removing all intellectual and emotional stimulation as a cure to the female's illness. The narrator disliked the wallpaper so much because she, in a sense, saw herself reflected in the shape and pattern, woman struggling to get out and be free.
As a result, the wallpaper's images and silhouettes are a 'mind's game' of the narrator interior feelings. The time she spent alone in her room, was the perfect opportunity for her to develop her ideas and thoughts. She discovered that no one would understand her feelings if she said something. Her husband would never be able to comprehend that he was domineering and creating her condition instead of helping her.
The woman in the wallpaper is a symbolism of the narrator's battle against her feelings and her reality. ' Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly and the pattern just enjoys it!' (302) Pulling off the paper is freeing the woman inside, the woman inside of her that longs to be free and strong, and the woman in the paper. 'I've got out at last, in spite of you and Janey. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!' (302) She is free. Charlotte Perkins Gilman beat her madness by leaving her self-destruction behind.
Being a powerful woman, divorcing in a time when it was unheard of. The narrator was free, she freed herself, just as Gilman did. The Yellow Wallpaper 'was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked. ' (Gilman).