Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edith Wharton and the Role of Women in the Late Nineteenth Century, Essay Example

1. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is often classified within the genre of gothic fiction. In so far as this genre is viewed as combining elements of horror and romance, Gilman’s story would appear to satisfy these criteria by depicting the descent into madness of its narrator, locked into a rumor and ultimately hallucinating about the yellowpaper that adorns the chamber. The descent into madness certainly falls into a category of psychological horror: however, where is the Romantic aspect of this piece? Perhaps it falls within the romantic category since it focuses on the individual: horror is not imposed from the exterior world, but emerges in the individual’s confrontation with the outside. Here, the extreme limitations of the surrounding environment torture the narrator, functioning as the direct opposite of the praise of nature in romanticism: a limited and closed environment negatively affects the individual. Gilman (1899) writes, for example, “I lie here on this great immovable bed – it is nailed down.” (p. 74) The sense of gravity here imposes itself on the narrator, disrupting her psychic life. This is paralleled in Gilman’s own life: the “resting cure” meant isolation, and here Gilman shows its clear connections to madness. Advancements in medical treatment have changed this approach, becoming more sensitive to factors that may contribute the psychological healing process.

2. Edith Wharton’s stories are reflections of the disadvantaged and exploited position of women within a patriarchal society. Roman Fever captures this basic theme of feminist literature and theory, although it is not a direct form of critique, but rather a more implicit form of critique. This becomes clear, in so far as the two main female protagonists in the story are embroiled in conflict because of a man: they are brought into this conflict by a patriarchal society that states that a woman needs a man to fulfill their existence. Since the characters do not directly realize this, they are embroiled in the unconscious mechanism of patriarchal hegemony: by showing the ultimate absurdity of the woman’s conflict, Wharton challenges women to think more precisely about the social discourses and norms that structure their existences.

Works Cited

Gilman, C.P. (1899). The Yellow Wallpaper. In: Prosperity and Social Justice at the Turn of the Century Part I.