Analysis of “The Yellow Wallpaper” & “Turned” two stories from Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories that share common themes. The two stories are “The Yellow Wallpaper” & “Turned.” Both by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This classic story which was first published in 1892 is typical of Charlotte Gilman who describes a young woman’s descent into neurosis and psychosis with alarming reality and stark detail. Principally, the story focuses on the girl’s fixation with her surroundings which intermingle with the declining effect on her health. This is all brought about by her husband’s wicked decision to confine her to a room in solitary presence where she is forbidden to undertake any sort of mental activity, this may include literary or other similar pursuits and this type of situation literally drives her mad.
Gilman is extremely skilful in setting the scene and in creating a situation wherein we have to feel some sort of pity for the subject in question. There is also a feminist turn to the story as many times in the past, men who wanted to get rid of their wives tended to lock them up in some institution citing madness as the subject. This story also compares with some others written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes canon where women also ended up locked in some room in a vast mansion and where left to rot away with madness enveloping them.
However Gilman’s story is far more powerful in the sense that she creates a world of unbearable nervous tension with the woman in question observing all sorts of figures and shapes on the house’s wallpaper. These continue to dominate her mind as she gets ever more mad and ever more intrinsically involved in the subject of her own neurotic state. The writing is palpably intriguing and is extremely effective with the descriptions of the goings on in the main character’s mind quite harrowing and extremely depressing.
One can also compare Gilman to Virginia Woolf who suffered similar bouts of depression and ended up committing suicide with the tendency to subside into deep depression and loneliness a summary characteristic of both writers. Indeed Gilman had confessed to being autobiographic in this novel and there are areas of it which seem to be more personal than others in this sense.
The wallpaper provides a sense of stimulus as can be seen through this quote which focuses on the almost sensual powers of the said wallpaper:
“It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw—not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things. But there is something else about that paper—the smell! The only thing I can think of that it is like, is the color of the paper! A yellow smell.”
So in a sense the wallpaper serves as a stimulus for the woman who is slowly growing ever more mad and without hope. The epistolary style of the story is also uncannily unique and original. One can only marvel at the effects which Gilman creates and at the end of the day this is a story which is surely one of the most appealing and also one of the most challenging from this author.
This is a similar story to The Yellow Wallpaper where the subject who is also a woman in isolation ends up committing suicide too, rather autobiographical in the sense that Perkins Gilman also committed suicide also like Virginia Woolf. The story again explores those themes which were prevalent in The Yellow Wallpaper, solitude, domination of man over woman and eventually the descent into psychotic depression and suicide. The title Turned is very apt as it means that the woman is slowly but surely turning into somebody who is mad and who has no further hope in life but to look and stare at what has befallen her. It is a powerful story indeed rather in the mould of Kate Chopin also who is similarly reticent and depressive in her stories.
Gilman also explores the theme of woman’s liberation in this story which was perhaps quite controversial at the time but which also showed that women were downtrodden individuals in those days without much hope for their future which generally lay at the service of their husbands. In fact, Gilman’s personal experiences are quite strongly characterized in her stories which more often than not are full of silent innuendos and considerable detail whilst also demonstrating a certain liberty of speech which is quite disarming.
Notwithstanding all this, Turned is truly an excellent story which focuses on diverse elements and opinions that end up in one fell swoop confirming that Gilman was an avant garde feminist without much qualms about her goals.
However if one had to compare ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ with ‘Turned’, one would intrinsically note that the similarities are not always that pronounced. In the former, the woman who can be said to be Gilman in her first phase seems to accept what has befallen her while descending into madness while in the latter story, Gilman turns rather more aggressive with certain parts of it showing a detestation of the status quo and an embracing of Darwinist tendencies which show that the woman is powerful in her own right. Both stories have to be taken into the context of the time which was late 19th century America and although things were changing in this respect, it does seem that Gilman was consistently feeling short changed and frustrated in expressing her literary opinions which she then churned out into her stories.