I don’t know how many of you have read the story by Charlotte Perkins (Stetson) Gilman but it’s insidious plot makes for a long read even though, in truth, it is only about 19 pages worth of reading. It is not literally the longest short story but it will surely seem like it. The American writer of the story was a professional lecturer in ethics, economics and sociology. She was also a women’s rights activist who associated with movements dedicated to improving work conditions, specifically. This tense and non-entertaining story veers completely to the other side of a woman’s mind which has lost the ability to cope with conditions of absolute reality and confinement. The inspiration for this story probably came from Charlotte’s personal experience with post-partum depression even though the element of having a child is absent from the story.
The author’s father abandoned her and her mother into a life of financial poverty but her influences came from her father’s side of the family- a plethora of suffragettes in Isabella Beecher Hooker, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Catharine Beecher because her mother was ill and therefore distant as a worthwhile influence to her. She schooled herself, making the use of a public library and perusing volumes on ancient civilizations. Years after the fact her father contacted her and ran down a list of books he wanted her to read.
She married artist Charles Walter Stetson in 1884 after first turning him down and gave birth almost immediately. Within four years they separated and divorced by 1894. She took her daughter with her when she moved to Pasadena, California and became involved in women’s groups which gave her support and to which she devoted much of her writing and lecturing energy. At some point she gave up custody of her daughter to her husband who had remarried and felt she had a ‘right to know and love her father’. She became romantically involved with a cousin, George Houghton Gilman, a short while later, married him when she moved back east and when he passed away she returned back to Pasadena where her daughter still lived. She committed suicide in August of 1935 after being given a diagnosis of breast cancer four years before and it was in keeping with her philosophy on euthanasia.
When I did research on Charlotte’s life recently a pattern became very clear to me which illustrates her own story very well through The Yellow Wallpaper. She gave her life to writing an understanding body of work on the human condition specifically concerning women. Her cause was clear as well and she succeeded in many ways that the average feminist of today fails to grasp in its entirety. In order to contribute in any way to the world around you or the society you choose, bringing a whole and entire human being, without undue restraints to the front is imperative. How you achieve your ends is very dependent on how you perceive yourself and additionally if you are allowed to be this self in your constant environment. Reducing that factor or taking it away entirely puts you into the position of basically trying to be something or someone you aren’t and helps no one in the end.
Some quotes from Charlotte led me to this conclusion. One was, “Find your real job and do it.” Words that may be a curiosity to some made me realize recently that this is the most important choice you will make in life. It’s not necessary to find it out right away but in order to be truly happy in life it is essential. No pressure and no rush. The words to a song by Trisha Yearwood corroborate the next quote from Charlotte… “Here she comes, running out of prison and off the pedestal: chains off, crown off, halo off, just a live woman.”
Trisha Yearwood sang, “People sure get nervous when a woman’s free.” This has been the real struggle all these years- that women have strived not only for autonomy but recognition for something other than what the male world deems acceptable. If anyone thinks that this is not Christian and not in keeping with God’s plan then they need to re-read the part of Genesis which states, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” This made Eve an equal to Adam in every respect. If this concept has been abused or distorted it has been by man alone and certainly not decreed or allowed by God.
I urge each and every woman to get a copy of this story, as it is archived in many anthologies, and peruse it well. It is not a horror story per se although its theme can surely make it seem so. It is a banner cry to all who feel oppressed by forced circumstances. God said He would give us the desires of our hearts and that sounds like a promise to me. Take the time and read this story.
Color my world with hope for a great future,