For the women in the twentieth century today, who have more freedom than beforeand have not experienced the depressive life that Gilman lived from 1860 to1935, it is difficult to understand Gilmans situation and understand thesignificance of The Yellow Wallpaper.
Gilmans original purpose ofwriting the story was to gain personal satisfaction if Dr. S. Weir Mitchellmight change his treatment after reading the story. However, as Ann L. Janesuggests, The Yellow Wallpaper is the best crafted of her fiction: agenuine literary piecethe most directly, obviously, self-consciouslyautobiographical of all her stories (Introduction xvi). And more importantly,Gilman says in her article in The Forerunner, It was not intended to drivepeople crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked (20).
Therefore, The Yellow Wallpaper is a revelation of Charlotte PerkinsGilmans own emotions. When the story first came out in 1892 the criticsconsidered The Yellow Wallpaper as a portrayal of female insanity ratherthan a story that reveals an aspect of society. In The Transcript, a physicianfrom Boston wrote, Such a story ought not to be writtenit was enough todrive anyone mad to read it (Gilman 19). This statement implies that anywoman that would write something to show opposition to the dominant socialvalues must have been insane.
In Gilmans time setting The ideal woman wasnot only assigned a social role that locked her into her home, but she was alsoexpected to like it, to be cheerful and gay, smiling and good humored (Lane,To Herland 109). Those women who rejected this role and pursued intellectualenlightenment and freedom would be scoffed, alienated, and even punished. Thisis exactly what Gilman experienced when she tried to express her desire forindependence. Gilman expressed her emotional and psychological feelings ofrejection from society for thinking freely in The Yellow Wallpaper, whichis a reaction to the fact that it was against the grain of society for women topursue intellectual freedom or a career in the late 1800s. Her taking Dr. S.Weir Mitchells rest cure was the result of the pressures of theseprevalent social values. Charlotte Gilman was born on July 3, 1860, in Hartford,Connecticut in a family boasting a list of revolutionary thinkers, writers.
Andintermarriages among them were, as Carol Berkin put it, in discreteconfirmation of their pride in association (18). One fact that catches ourattention is that, either from the inbreeding, or from the high intellectualcapacity of the family, there was a long sting of disorders ranging frommanic-depressive illness to nervous breakdowns including suicide and shortterm hospitalizations (Lane, To Herland 110). Harriet Beecher Stowe, Gilmansaunt, also complained about this illness. When writing to a friend, Beechersaid, My mind is exhausted and seems to be sinking into deadness (Lane, TOHerland 111). She felt this way for years and did not recover from so manybreakdowns until finding real release in her writing of Uncle TomsCabin (Lane, To Herland 111).
And Catherine Beecher, another famous writer andlecturer at that time, was also sent to the same sanitarium for nervousdisorders. As Gilman came from a family of such well known feminists andrevolutionaries, it is without a doubt that she grew up with the idea that shehad the right to be treated as anyone, whether man or woman. Not only did thisstrong background affect her viewpoint about things, it also affected herrelations with her husband and what role she would play in that relationship.
From the beginning of her marriage, she struggled with the idea of conforming tothe domestic model for women. Upon repeated proposals from Stetson, her husband,Gilman tried to lay bare her torments and reservations about gettingmarried (Lane, To Herland 85). She claimed that her thoughts, her acts, herwhole life would be centered on husband and children. To do the work she neededto do, she must be free (Lane, To Herland 85). Gilman was so scared of thisidea because she loved her work and she loved freedom, though she also loved herhusband very much.
After a long period of uncertainty and vacillation shemarried Charles Stetson at 24 (Lane, Introduction x). Less than a year later,however, feelings of nervous exhaustion immediately descended uponGilman, and she became a mental wreck (Ceplair 17). In that period oftime, she wrote many articles on women caught between families and careersand the need for women to have