For Gilman, her divorce proceedings, rare enough at the time to be announced as a “scandal” in various American newspapers, began in the same year as The Yellow Wallpaper was published, and she became increasingly active in the women’s movement.
Writing years later about the short story, Gilman described how it was written to celebrate her narrow escape from utter mental ruin.
“I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did? Her husband, on opening the door, collapses as the narrator declares: The Yellow Wallpaper illuminates the challenges of being a woman of ambition in the late 19th century.
While all women were seen vulnerable, those who expressed political ambition (suffrage reformers), or who took on male roles and challenged female dress codes (New Women), or who sought higher education or creative lives – or even read too much fiction – could be accused of flouting female conventions and placing themselves at risk of mental illness.
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The Yellow Wallpaper is a feminist short story by Charlotte Perkins- Gilman.
Perhaps, the narrator muses, it had once been a nursery or playroom.
It is the room’s wallpaper, a “repellant” and “smouldering unclean yellow”, with “sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin” that forms the centrepiece of the story.
The protagonist of the story might have been suffering from puerperal insanity, a severe form of mental illness labelled in the early 19th century and claimed by doctors to be triggered by the mental and physical strain of giving birth.
The condition captured the interest of both psychiatrists and obstetricians, and its treatment involved quietening the nervous system and restoring the strength of the patient.