Over the next two days we will be reading the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A feminist, social reformer and novelist, Gilman based the story of “The Yellow Wallpaper” on her own experiences with depression and the popular 19th century ‘rest cure’. In her short story she examines the impact that this ‘cure’ has on the mental state of her female protagonist, and makes a clear statement against the control that a patriarchal society held over every aspect of women’s lives in the 19th century.
As we examine this text, remember to apply the lens of Feminist Criticism to your analysis. If you’ve forgotten how to do this, remember:
Feminist Criticism: Feminist criticism is concerned with the impact of gender on writing and
reading. It usually begins with a critique of patriarchal culture. It is concerned with the place of female writers in the literary cannon. Finally, it includes a search for a feminine theory or approach to texts. Feminist criticism is political and often revisionist. Feminists often argue that male fears are portrayed through female characters. They may argue that gender determines everything, or just the opposite: that all gender differences are imposed by society, and gender determines nothing.
Advantages: Women have been underrepresented in the traditional cannon, and a feminist approach to literature attempts to redress this problem.
Disadvantages: Feminists turn literary criticism into a political battlefield and overlook the merits of works they consider “patriarchal.” When arguing for a distinct feminine writing style, they tend to relegate women’s literature to a ghetto status; this in turn prevents female literature from being naturally included in the literary cannon. The feminist approach is often too theoretical.
Checklist of Feminist Critical Questions:
- To what extent does the representation of women (and men) in the work reflect the place and time in which the work was written?
- How are the relationships between men and women or those between members of the same sex presented in the work?
- What roles do men and women assume and perform and with what consequences?
- Does the author present the work from within a predominantly male or female sensibility?
- Why might this have been done, and with what effects?
- How do the facts of the author’s life relate to the presentation of men and women in the work? To their relative degrees of power?
- How do other works by the author correspond to this one in their depiction of the power relationships between men and women?