Professional narrator Xe Sands (Xe is pronounced “exy”) recorded a terrific sounding audiobook of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper back in June.
Originally, I wanted to record “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson. Sadly, it is not in the public domain. But then, for some reason, this wonderful, dark, gothic story of a woman’s descent into madness came to mind. Not sure whether to thrilled to have the perfect piece, or somewhat disturbed that a tale of neuroses run wild popped into my mind so easily, but I digress…
I think I’ve grown a bit angry.
Let me start with this – how the story is generally encapsulated:
“…a woman whose mental illness makes her a prisoner in her own home.”
“…a young wife and mother succumbing to madness ”
So why is this a problem? It’s true, right? She is unbalanced. She does descend into madness. But it’s all a question of why, WHY does she “succumb” to madness?
And this is where I grow a bit angry. Most of the dismissive language used in these summaries miss the point: that this story is a treatise on the attitudes toward women’s mental health during this period (written in 1899). The narrator, who we are supposed to believe is unreliable, is actually perfectly coherent and early on in the story, likely a far better judge about what would actually help her. It is the ignorance and arrogance of her husband that is the unreliable narrator, for his filter regarding her condition and what would help it, cannot be trusted to give the reader an accurate picture of what ails his wife.
Take a look at this bit from the author, “Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper.” And tell me if attitudes are really all that different today? All I can say is that it is wonderful that she was able to save herself…and I think she put a hint of that in this story:
“He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me.”
Luckily for Gilman, she was able to do what her narrator could not.
Posted by Jesse Willis