I became interested in the story of “The Yellow Wallpaper” after finding out that Charlotte Perkins Gilman suffered a similar experience to that of her narrator. It is easy to assume that the story is autobiographical in nature, that Gilman had written it as a rebuttal to the gender oppression she suffered. However, even if it is true that “The Yellow Wallpaper” is autobiographical, my mistake of assumption without evidence for my claim was faulty and it was this realization that prompted me to study further both “The Yellow Wallpaper” itself and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s life to see how or if they mirror each other. In order to find answers for my research question, I began to gather information from three different categories: the social milieu in which Gilman and the story are situated, what Gilman herself said about her relationship to her story, and what other scholars are saying about this topic.
Because of the nature of my research question, it was clear to me that I would be using an historical approach when studying the social setting of the story and Gilman’s life and an authorial intention/authorial experience approach in attempting to synthesize Gilman’s experiences with her story. Blended amongst these two approaches, however, is the undeniable presence of the Feminist viewpoint. Both the approaches I am taking are contextualized by Feminism: the historical approach by way of the burgeoning Feminist movement and the authorial experience/authorial intention approach by way of Gilman’s substantial involvement with this social revolution and professed hopes of making social freedom for women a reality. While I am not specifically working from a feminist standpoint for this paper, it influences much of the research I am using as well as my particular research question.
Since Gilman’s socio-historical milieu is the setting of the story as well as an important source of influence on her as an individual, the bulk of my paper would be concentrated on a discussion of late 19th century and early 20th century attitudes toward women as well as the medical beliefs of this era. Both of these subjects not only figure prominently in the story but they are the very building blocks upon which it rests. The scholarly articles I have gathered cover many different aspects concerning my topic and provide useful information and differing viewpoints regarding the motifs of incarceration, suppression, and self-creation in the story.
The more difficult question to address in my paper is the issue of Gilman’s own intention in writing the story and, therefore, the degree to which it is autobiographical. I chose to incorporate Gilman’s article entitled “Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’” which was published shortly after the story itself into my research because it appears to be her manifesto concerning her intentions for the story and her experiences that instigated it. However, I am using this article carefully, with the knowledge that while autobiographical works provide us with an understanding the author’s understanding of why they wrote their work, they are perhaps the least free from bias than any other kind of writing. Instead of choosing to build my argument off of this article (in which she does imply that the story is somewhat autobiographical), I am using it as a reference point to help guide my research into the extent to which Gilman’s personal experience and what her experience as a woman in early twentieth century society would have been like are mirrored in her story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” This paper will add to both a socio-historical understanding of Gilman and her story and a psychological view of her story as a personal manifesto of an oppressed woman.