I read “The Yellow Wallpaper” again the other day and found it fantastically chilling, which led me to question my initial dislike for the story years ago when I read it the first time.
After several seconds of thought I realized I had read it in college and the woman who taught it was advancing her “victim agenda.” She concluded that the narrator in the story represented, not only the women of her day, but the women of my day.
It’s too bad she addressed the story as such, because it’s really good.
I hope it’s not sacrilege to say, but Perkins may have even outdone Poe.
So when deciding to teach the story, I needed a “Yellow Wallpaper” lesson plan that addressed “Yellow Wallpaper” themes intelligently.
Let’s start with “The Yellow Wallpaper” summary.The narrator is staying at a secluded estate with her husband John who worries about his wife’s nervous depression. John, a physician, has recommended the “rest cure,” which consists of (as the name implies) nothing but rest.
The narrator, likely suffering from postpartum depression, is confined to a room she doesn’t like at a place she doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with, and is not permitted to do anything.
As you might imagine, her condition worsens.
The narrator becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper adorning the room. She writes about the patterns, the sub-patterns, and the women trapped underneath.
Because her husband’s in town with important cases frequently, the narrator remains isolated, other than her sister-in-law, from whom the narrator must hide the writing.
Her obsession with the wallpaper increases. Her clothes become stained yellow. She begins to see herself as the woman trapped underneath.
She locks the door, throws the key outside, and peels off the wallpaper.
Her husband eventually enters, sees the removed wallpaper and her insane wife crawling about. He faints and his wife crawls over him.
Here’s an honest “The Yellow Wallpaper” analysis that doesn’t promote the “victim agenda.”
Because women were treated as second class citizens around the turn-of-the-century, many–especially those with artistic and professional inclinations–felt trapped and smothered emotionally. Throw in a hint of depression, unwise medical treatments, confinement, and the general perception that women were frail and weak, and you’ve got problems.
These notions seem foreign to the modern reader, but in fact, were prominent at the turn of the century.
In this way, students can be made aware of historical gender inequality while celebrating pioneers, such as Charlotte Perkins Gillman, who courageously identified cultural and legal unfairness and dared to challenge the status quo (start your chants of USA! USA! USA!).
Instead of a “you’re all victims and marriage is horrible” message, it becomes a message of empowerment.
(By the way, I’m a man. Discarding my opinion, however, because of that manly fact is an example of the ad hominem logical fallacy)
Here’s more “The Yellow Wallpaper” analysis
- The narrator is a new mother and likely suffers from postpartum depression.
- She’s confined to a single room, not even a preferable room, where she is instructed to do nothing, as per doctor’s orders.
- She maintains a subordinate position in the marriage where she must obey the dictates of her husband and his sister.
- She is unable to express herself artistically, having to hide the fact that she’s even writing.
In short, the structure of family, medicine, and tradition has trapped the narrator and the faces of the many women in the wallpaper.
Let’s throw together a nice lesson plan:
It’s self explanatory.
Here are some standards the assignment covers.
- RL 11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
- 11-12.2 Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
- 11-12.3 Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).