June 6, 2010

Gilman: The color is repellant

In temperatures reportedly as high as 103 degrees in Pasadena, California, Charlotte Perkins Gilman began writing a short story on June 6, 1890. She completed the story, titled "The Yellow Wallpaper," the next day. A week later, she sent it off to Scribner's. After a couple rejections, it was finally published in the January 1892 issue of The New England Magazine. It was reprinted at least six more times in her lifetime.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" has been claimed as a classic example of a psychological thriller, of feminist literature, and of depicting women's health issues. The story, which is at least partially inspired by Gilman's real life, features a woman suffering from depression and prescribed the "rest cure."

The story is presented as a journal. The main character and narrator is quickly dismissed by her husband, a doctor who laughs at her and does not believe she is truly sick. Her brother, also a physician, agrees. They forbid her from work and, though she disagrees, she follows their orders, asking, "What is one to do?" Despite her apparent compliance, however, she starts writing. Rather than think about her condition, which her husband says is the worst thing she can do, she focuses on the house and, specifically, the room to which she is confined. She strongly dislikes the wallpaper:

I never saw a worse paper in my life.
One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.
It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate, and provoke study, and when you follow the lame, uncertain curves for a little distance, they suddenly commit suicide — plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard-of contradictions.
The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering, unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.

The wallpaper soon becomes more than just an annoyance...

Many years later, Gilman committed suicide.


  1. The imagery in this quote is almost violent with festering anger and resentment. I haven't read this story in years so thank you for giving me an excuse to go back to it!

  2. "The Yellow Wallpaper" captivated me from the first time I read it, back in the 1980s. Gilman is an intriguing writer--and thinker. Your posting has made me pull my well-thumbed "Charlotte Perkins Gilman" reader from the shelf again. Thanks!