First published in 1892, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is written as the secret journal of a woman who, failing to relish the joys of marriage and motherhood, is sentenced to a country rest cure. Though she longs to write, her doctor husband forbids it, prescribing instead complete passivity. In the involuntary confinement of her bedroom, she creates a reality of her own beyond the hypnotic pattern of the faded yellow wallpaper – a pattern that has come to symbolize her own imprisonment.
It is a short and powerful story. So ahead of its time. It depicts the problem with complete bed rest (which was popular at the time), the need for self-expression and the subordinate position of the woman in a marriage. It taught me two life lessons.
First, we should always listen to others and really hear them out. We often have preconceived notions about our loved ones. Sometimes, we do things for their good even if they don’t like it, but we never stop to think that they know what is best for them.
It reminds me of a coaching session in my office, where the trainer would constantly tell us that we should not hand out solutions to people’s problems. His mantra was that everyone is knowledgeable and capable of solving their own problems. Even if others ask for help, he wanted us to guide them in identifying their own solution.
The second learning I had from this story was to trust myself and stand up for what I believe in. We may have some intuitions that are contradictory to popular beliefs. That does not mean that we should doubt ourselves. Instead of blindly following an ‘expert’, it is always good to reason and figure out the right course of action.
I would recommend this book to everyone. Because the narrator is unreliable, a second read would help uncover the story better. It is available in Project Gutenberg.