The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper - e-book

Read from December 29th to 30th 2012

My rating: 4/5 stars


The beauty of any good work is that it is open to a lot of (and often contradictory) interpretations, since it is a well-known truth that the artworks are chameleonic, and once a book is finished, the authorship is demoted, so to speak, by readership.

So, even if The Yellow Wallpaper was written (according to the author) in order to show up the medical and professional oppression against women at Gilman's time, and reclaimed afterwards by feminist movements as one of their manifestos, I choose to interpret it in a different way, mainly because I abhor labels that always narrow and prejudice the approach: once put in "the feminist literature" drawer, it is sure only those interested by this drawer will open the books put in there.

And it would be a pity, because whether this may be a well-deserved fate for tendentious writings, true artworks are above it, their message speaking to a larger category of receptors.

Therefore, it was refreshing to learn of Alan Ryan's interpretation, who saw it as "one of the finest, and strongest, tales of horror ever written. It may be a ghost story. Worse yet, it may not."

And "it may not", I'd say. What I read was mostly a tale about alienation, about that famous "je est un autre", that is to say about a writer who is prevented to fulfil her calling by practicality, normality, triviality... Confined in the ugly room of a conventional life, with her wings clipped, unable to express herself because of some external factors beyond control (maybe family, maybe illness, maybe society)  she loses herself in this yellow ugliness whose pattern she tries to decipher in order to release herself.

Unable to create, misunderstood by the others, the narrator goes through a  painful process of duplication and estrangement, becoming obsessed with a woman she believes trapped in the wallpaper and whom she is determined to free, even in exchange of her own freedom:

"I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path. I don't want to go out, and I don't want to have anybody come in, till John comes.(...) If that woman does get out, and tries to get away, I can tie her!"

But, alas, sometimes it's too late, because what emerges from the wallpaper is only a pathetic new self who announces her husband:

"I've got out at last, (...) in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!"

In spite of this triumphant statement, all she can do is creep on the floor, vaguely irritated she has to creep over the fainted man she doesn't recognize as her husband anymore.

At least two questions tend to linger after finishing this uncanny short story, and I'm not the only one to have asked them: firstly, is Jane (see quote above) the narrator's name that she doesn't consider hers anymore in the end, hence the suggestion that Jane (the other self) was equally guilty of her imprisonment together with her husband John? And secondly, is John the big bad wolf responsible for his wife's downfall or only a very ordinary man, sadly blinded by his own common-sense and lack of imagination?

Whatever the answers, this story is obviously not only the story of a 19th century woman, trapped in the social prejudices of those times. It is, above all, the story of the tragic condition of the artist deprived of his creative powers.

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