Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Great American Short Stories (specifically The Yellow Wall-Paper)

This review is a little different, because I didn't read one book and instead read several short stories.  There are times when I don't have the mental energy or fortitude to commit to a novel.  There are times when I don't have the ability to commit any time to a novel.  There are times when I'm lazy.  This is one of those times.  And I haven't even finished them all!  That's what is great about a collection of stories; their easy to pick up and put down at a moment's notice.  That's what I've been doing - in the waiting room at speech therapy with one eye on my son, in the pick-up line at school with one eye on the door, in bed with one eye closed - and I'm pretty sure I haven't missed anything in the stories.

I read Great American Short Stories per Barnes and Noble's designation.  You can find it here and it's cheap! $3.99 cheap! I had a specific story in mind when I picked this collection up; The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  It was in one of my high school English books and I remember it being kind of creepy and a good(interesting) way.  I reread it first.  It didn't disappoint.  Then I went back and read a few others and now it's time for me to post a review.  So I'll tell you about the story that prompted me to buy this book.

The Yellow Wall-Paper
Even better than I remembered it.  Written from a female point-of-view, this story lets us in on one woman's depression and delusion (?) during a family's summer stay in a leased "ancestral home."  What we find out is that our narrator and her husband have moved in while their home is being renovated and to give our narrator a chance to "recover".  Her husband's a physician and wants her to rest and re-energize and not give herself over to her previous silly fancies and nervousness.  It's pretty clear she would be diagnosed with postpartum depression today, as being around her baby makes her too "nervous" and she is depressed in general.  I'm not positive, but I'm guessing that this is supposed to be turn-of-the-twentieth century time frame so the good doctor's advice is ridiculously patronizing.  So much so, I certainly would have gone crazy from having to listen to it at any length.

Regardless, the room the doctor has chosen for his wife's recuperation is on the top floor of the house (though she wanted a room on the bottom floor that opened onto a veranda, she was summarily dismissed because, you know, there's no way she could know her own mind) and seems to have quite the past.  It's large and is furnished with a big, heavy bed.  It is wall-papered though the paper has been torn off in some sections and around the gnawed-upon headboard of the nailed-to-the-ground bed.  Our narrator believed it must have been a nursery then a playroom and gymnasium because there are rings built into the wall.  I think she's kind.  If I walked into a room with a hideous wall-paper that's been torn, a bed that's been beat to heck nailed to the floor, and rings in the walls,oh! and a gate at the top of the stairs, I would think that someone was kept in that room.  And they weren't very happy about it.  Nothing will cure your depression like living in a homemade asylum.

The real problem with the room, as you may have guessed, is the yellow wall-paper.  It is distracting to our narrator.  Every time she tries, she can't make the pattern match up or repeat any kind of pattern in a reasonable way.  Over the weeks she becomes obsessed with following the lines until she can decipher any kind of reasonable pattern.  She gives us details about her days and nights, and it becomes apparent that she is not getting better and, in fact, is getting worse.  She stops leaving the room altogether and instead spends her days analyzing the wall-paper.  She becomes convinced that the wall-paper changes as the light through the windows changes.  And that is when she sees the woman; the woman "creeping" behind the pattern in the wall-paper.   Our narrator becomes convinced that the woman is trying mightily to escape her wall-paper prison by shaking the pattern at every opportunity.  Then one day, our narrator spies the wall-paper woman "creeping" around the grounds of the estate.  And it seems the wall-paper woman is everywhere at once, but always hiding from view (about which our narrator believes the hiding to be reasonable because creeping during the day is humiliating - she does all her day-creeping behind closed doors).  Our narrator is determined to strip the wall-paper from the wall before they leave the home, and so she locks herself in the room.  When her husband tries to get in the room, she tells him she threw the key out the window.  When he finally opens the door he sees his wife creeping along the wall (where there was already a "smooch" just where her shoulder would fit) and large section of wall-paper torn away.  He faints.  She continues to crawl, but now, over him.

And that's how it ends.  If you haven't read it, I didn't tell you anything that would ruin the story itself.  My synopsis doesn't do it justice.  It intrigues me.  I wonder if her depression would have worsened if they had rented a different home.  I wonder if they had slept in the room downstairs, if she would have slipped so far into this state.  I wonder if the wall-paper itself was the actual problem.  I wonder how many women had to suffer through postpartum depression at the hands of condescending and patronizing doctors.  I wonder why one of my longer reviews was about one of the shorter stories I've read.  Mostly, I wonder if any of you have a story from high school/junior high English class that you'd like to read again.  Tell us which one! Pin It


  1. O.K. I am going to read the last two books in the "Girl" books, but I dont' think I am up to this one. I have enough trouble with the winter weather, I don't think I can handle this type of book. Love the review though.

    1. Well, there are other stories in this book if you didn't think you wanted to creep yourself out. :)

  2. I distinctly remember reading "The Yellow Wallpaper," and being struck by its feminist slant. It was creepy and oppressive, and I'm certain I must have ranted about how women were driven crazy by patriarchy. I rant less now. Except when I'm explaining to my sons that girls can do everything that boys can do. Really!

    If I had the time (hahahahahaha) I would re-read the Bronte sisters. I remember reading them in high school of my own accord. I can't imagine anyone could have assigned them, because they would be a hard sell to boys. And that's what matters-not whether I cared for Melville, or Hemingway, or Steinbeck for that matter. Where are the women???? Argh, the canon. A discussion for another day.

  3. I looked in the back of the book at the information on the author. Turns out she was a Beecher, as in Connecticut Beecher, as in Harriet Beecher Stowe. But she was next generation. She also happened to have problems with depression and worked to get a female voice heard (shocking, right?). Then in the 1930s she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she ended her own life. More than you wanted to know, I'm sure, but I thought it was interesting. Next on my re-read from high school list is "The Fall of the House of Usher." Poe's a good Friday night read, don't you think?

  4. The only thing I remember reading in middle school was Watership Down and I have NO.DESIRE. to read that ever again. I specifically remember sitting next to a boy named Phillip who kept knawing on his paper trying to imitate a rabbit in the process. And this was the "gifted" class?