Saturday, February 23, 2013

5: The Yellow Wall-Paper and Other Stories - Charlotte Perkins Gilman

"Never in all her life had she imagined that [these fashions] could look, to those who paid for it (men), like the decorations of an insane monkey" 
       - If I Were a Man
"The more Mrs. Haven used her mind the more mind she had to use" 
       - A Partnership
"I'm going to do what I never did before. I'm going to live!...Thirty years I've given you - and your father. Now I'll have thirty years of my own...I want you to grasp the fact that your mother is a Real Person with some interests of her own and half a lifetime yet" 
      - A Widow's Might
"Well anyway...if we do marry we don't mean to give up our work I hope. I mean to marry some time, perhaps - but I don't mean to cook! I mean to decorate always, and make lots of money and hire a housekeeper" 
       - Five Girls

I sat down to read "The Yellow Wall-Paper" (and other stories) while only planning on reading about that terribly ugly wallpaper and nothing else. I have read it quite a few times over the years in various educational settings, put it on my comps list, and just wanted a quick re-read. I have always received xeroxed copies of the story, but wanted it in its own volume which is how I ended up with 332 pages of CGP's stories even though, again, only the wall-paper is on my comps list.

The Introduction mentioned the Gothic aspects of the story which I hadn't ever really considered (I'm more into gender and not at all into Gothic. Frankenstein is as close as I get to that subject and Edgar Allan Poe is going to be banned next year in my AP kids' poetry projects because I'm bored of him). It also said that "'The Yellow Wall-Paper' is so compelling that as readers go on to her other short stories they may feel disappointed, since except for 'The Giant Wistaria' and 'The Rocking Chair', both in the Gothic mode, CGP's subsequent stories lack the emotional depth and suggestive power of the work generally and deservedly accepted as the masterpiece of her fiction" which is so disparaging I had no desire to read anything besides maybe skimming those two stories. It's followed by some bullshit patting-on-the-head that says "it would be a shame to simply pass over [the other stories that have a 'genuine interest of their own' that is 'different' but 'authentic and rewarding']" which is a lame-ass attempt to justify why the entire book exists when the editor already told you only one is worth reading. THIS IS A CRUEL INJUSTICE TO HER OTHER STORIES.

I read "The Yellow Wall-Paper" in a quick 35 minutes and decided, since I had the whole day in front of me to read for my comps and/or homework I could read a few more. Five hours of free time that I didn't have later, and I have conquered the better portion of her short stories. 
  • The Yellow Wall-Paper: I don't think anyone can start any place BUT here. So start here, fine. Marvel at its crazy metaphors (the wall-paper is the patriarchy, holding chicks back). Think about everything you've heard about post-partum depression and be glad that we have a name and accept it as a thing now. Make the biographical connections to CGP's own life (a doctor put her on "the rest cure" and told her to "live as domestic a life as far as possible, to have but two hours intellectual life a day, and never touch pen, brush, or pencil again." This was an epic failure for CGP and the protagonist of this story, but according to my Norton Feminist Lit Theory/Crit, "such a cure, strangely enough, was to work wonders for...Edith Wharton" who went on to write a terribly depressing novel where nothing good happens to a woman while CGP writes a ton of short stories about awesome things happening to women). Done? Let's move on. 
  • Dr. Clair's Place: If the Yellow Wall-Paper is the disease, Dr. Clair's Place is the cure. How to really treat depression in women in a way that is appropriate and beneficial. It's such a contrast to what happens in the Yellow Wall-Paper that I think you have to read both. Ok. Onto the yummy stuff.

Seven Awesome Stories About Life from Best to Less Best

  1. If I Were A Man: A marvelous body-switching episode where a woman gets to experience life as a man. Fascinating. 
  2. Circumstances Alter Cases: Highlights the double standard that is revealed when men make a judgement about a romantic situation and then completely change their minds when the gender of the people in the situation are reversed.
  3. An Unnatural Mother: The note in my book say "a bunch of ungrateful bitches judge a woman who is a fucking HERO because she grew up motherless with an openminded father who let her break gender stereotypes."
  4. Five Girls: Five friends who live/go to art school together and decide to build a giant compound for themselves so they can keep living and working together. Marriage + work = happiness.
  5. The Rocking Chair: Gothic. Creepy.
  6. That Rare Jewel: Victorian courtship rituals leave everyone confused when women can only socialize with men, and men can only court women by socializing with them, so no one knows when we're being friends and when we're being more than friends. Reminds me very much of every friendship/relationship I have been a part of because I'm awkward and assume that everyone is just being friendly when maybe they are expressing interest. Love that a short story from 1890 totally talks about being friend zoned.
  7. A Surplus Woman: Before there was Rosie the Riveter in 1942, there was the surplus woman in 1916. It is an economic and educational plan for the social reform that needs to happen when there is "a large majority of surplus women" after "the wholesale destruction of a whole generation of masculine youth" because there are "over a million women who could not marry" and need something to distract them from their entire life of celibacy, non-wifely duties, non-motherly duties.

Four Equally Awesome Stories About How Motherhood Is Fun But You Can't Be a Mom Forever Because Kids Need To Become Grown Ass Adults and What to Do After That

  • The Widow's Might: A woman should really have the financial means to take care of herself so she can do whatever she wants when her children are grown adults who don't need her anymore. And she does.
  • A Partnership: A woman should really have the personal interest to sustain herself so she can do whatever she wants when her children are grown adults who don't need her anymore. And she does. And it's a financially good idea to have two bread winners (this is a pun that you don't know is a pun because Mrs. Haven starts a bakery) in case something happens to one.
  • Mrs. Merrill's Duties: A woman should really have an education before she starts a family, and when her children are grown adults who don't need her anymore she can return to that education and perhaps - because she has the experience as a mother - do better in her field because she's a well rounded person with a variety of life experiences.
  • Mrs. Elder's Idea: Before Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton freaked everyone out by living in separate houses, Mr. Elder wanted to live in the country while Mrs. Elder wanted to live in the city. He was like 'Yo, it's 1912 and you do what I say.' She was like, 'Yo, it's 1912 and I'm a CGP character so I'll do what I want.' Thus you get the happy quote from above. CGP apparently has quite a few essays, speeches, and short stories about why couples should live apart.

Three Stories That Are Ok

  • The Giant Wistaria: Gothic. 
  • An Extinct Angel: Women are an angelic, caretaking, ignorant species who need to be kept angelic, caretakingy, and ignorant so that the menfolk who own them can be happy happy happy.
  • Through This: A day in the life of a housewife who doesn't get to have any of her own ideas or needs.

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