The Yellow Wallpaper

In the bedroom of the house I just moved into, there is a yellow floral wallpaper that was installed around 30 years ago. The wallpaper is beautiful, with yellow flowers, bows, and elements chinoiserie design. Unfortunately, the wallpaper has not been maintained and due to age and multiple leaks, the wallpaper is stained yellow, cracked, and peeling in most places. I tried to clean it in effort to salvage the paper, but alas, I think it will have to be removed. If anyone knows where I can find wallpaper to replicate what I have (the main image of this post) let me know!

Laying in my bed at night, staring at my yellow floral wallpaper, at a time when we are all confined in our homes during the Covid-19 crisis, I can’t help but to think of the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper“, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1892.

Not being a literary scholar, I hadn’t been familiar with the story, but I stumbled upon it last year when browsing Project Gutenberg’s classics (side note: Project Gutenberg is a great resource for free classic literature. I was able to connect it to my library app on my phone to download and read the books).

The story is about the narrator, who is a young woman, and her husband who move to an old mansion for the summer. Her husband is a physician who diagnosed her with nervous depression after the birth of their baby. He believed that only rest would relieve her symptoms and required her to remain in the upstairs bedroom, which had been once used as a nursery. The narrator kept a secret journal while confined in the room, where her husband was trapping her under the facade of “treatment”. With little else to stimulate her mind, she focused her journal entries on describing the old, peeling yellow wallpaper in the bedroom, which over time became revolting and menacing to her. She started to see the patterns as bars of a cage and then saw woman in the paper’s sub-pattern, who seemed to be stuck behind the wallpaper’s bars and was, “stooping down and creeping”. The narrator believed she must set the woman in the paper free, and later believed there were actually many other women in the wallpaper too. Near the end of the story, she was convinced that she herself had also come out of the wallpaper. Finally, she locked the door to her room and in a wild craze, she teared the yellow wallpaper off the walls and declared “I’ve got out at last… in spite of you.”

Gilman’s piece is an important work of early feminist literature, as she described both the oppression against women and mental health issues. She wrote the story based on her own experience with mental health and the treatments of her male doctors (It is also suspected that Gilman may had been suffering from postpartum depression).

This long-winded background and summary of the story is just to say that with the current confinement during the pandemic and lack of social stimuli, I empathize with those who have mental illnesses, who may be suffering at this time. Even those who had not suffered from mental illnesses in the past may be feeling depression and anxiety at this time. If you know someone who has or had suffered from mental illness, use this time to check up on them with phone calls, video calls, or other means of communication (Please check with your doctor if you are experiencing depression).

While I am practicing social distancing in my home, I will be tearing off my own yellow wallpaper (though not because it’s menacing). I’ve been collecting floral wallpaper options as potential replacement options–take a look at some of my favorites below.

Hope everyone stays healthy and safe!

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