Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

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If you love them let them go: The Awakening


The Awakening by Kate Chopin was probably my favorite stories.  The story was slow in the beginning but it began to pick up the pace when the reader started seeing the connection between Edna and Robert. I could not imagine being a woman in that time and reading The Awakening and being shocked by that a woman is falling in love with another man but she is married and has kids. It just was not common back then because marriage back then was for the social reasons. If a man and woman were not in love then it was too bad for them and they should have to suck it up or society would look down upon them. Girls could not just leave their husbands, if they did people would talk about them and being part of a social circle was a pretty big deal back then.

I guess the part that shocked me the most in the book was after Robert and Edna confessed their love for each other and Edna finds him gone when she comes back. I was hoping when she came back that they would just have this big, sappy moment together. But she finds a note instead, “I love you. Goodbye-because I love you.” (p. 776) It shocked me because I thought Robert really wanted to be with her but then I realized while they were confessing their love for each other, Edna pretty much said that she would not marry Robert. “I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, ‘Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours.’ I should laugh at you both.” (p.772) Edna admits here that even if Robert is the love of her life, she will never marry him because she does not want to be tied down. It just shows that Robert decided to leave because he knew that he could never have Edna. Edna wanted to be a free spirit. She loved Robert with all her heart buts he just didn’t want that kind of commitment. Robert was also had a good spot in the social world and he did not want to ruin that because of Edna and he knew that she was still married and he had respect for that.

I do not think Edna really knew the reason why Robert left or understood it at all. I think she was just heartbroken and she couldn’t understand what she said wrong. I do not think sherealized that she actually did tell Robert that she would never be his. Image

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Irony and Symbolism in Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles”

Irony and Symbolism in Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles”

A major theme in the play, “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell is that of patriarchal dominance. Glaspell uses elements of irony to implicate their evident folly. The male characters are the prime investigators of the crime scene. They have titles such as “sheriff” and “county attorney” while the women are in attendance to merely serve as company while they work. The men make the investigative decisions. They decide to go upstairs to see the crime scene, as they believe this is the most important area of the investigation. The women are left downstairs in the kitchen, of all rooms.

Mrs. Peters: “It’s a log cabin pattern. Pretty, isn’t it? I wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it?”


Sheriff: “They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it!”

The men poke fun at the women’s investigative claims. In fact, the men fail to realize that the women are at all a part of the investigation. Glaspell implies that the women make the most important conclusions and notice subtleties the men do not. The men spend most of their time “doing the work” at the exact physical crime scene while Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are in the kitchen, analyzing indirect facets of the crime. They explore Mrs. Wright’s personality and lifestyle, as well as possible incentives. The women encounter some important pieces of evidence in the kitchen. They are able to connect such “frivolities” to Mrs. Wright’s possible crime.

            Mrs. Hale: “I-I’ve never liked this place. Maybe because it’s down in a hollow      

And you can’t see the road. I dunno what it is but it’s a lonesome place and always was. I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now-“


Mrs. Hale: “Not having children makes less work-but it makes a quiet house, and Wright out to work all day and no company when he did come in…”


Mrs. Hale: “…But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him-like a raw wind that gets to the bone.”


Mrs. Hale: “…We all go through the same things. It’s just a different kind of the same thing.”

Here, Mrs. Hale is empathizing with Mrs. Wright. Often, empathizing with the accused is crucial in prosecution. This is a way in which Glaspell implies a great sense of insight on the part of the women, and not of the men.


This article deals with the role empathy plays in forensics.

A major symbol in the work is the bird. The women find the birdcage in the kitchen and thoroughly observe it. They realize it is broken and no bird is there. Later they find the bird and realize it had been strangled.

Mrs. Hale: “She, come to think of it, was kind of like a bird herself-real sweet and pretty but kind of timid and fluttery.”

Glaspell compares the oppressed life of the bird to that of Mrs. Wright’s, through Mrs. Hale’s dialogue. The birdcage is yet another kitchen item that the women, not the men find and examine. They are able to make interpretive conclusions; again Glaspell is communicating intelligence and insight on the part of the women.

The characters eventually conclude that a jury will never convict a woman of such a crime as murder. This implies that the men’s expectations of women eventually work outside of their favor by disallowing them to work their jobs effectively. Basically, the men dig holes for themselves by excluding the women from their endeavors.

            I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The caged bird metaphor has been used in other areas of literature before for the same reasons.

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Because a Woman who Writes has Power.

This past class when we started discussing multicultural women writers, I found myself genuinely intrigued. All three women: Kingston, Anzaldua, and Walker were exceptionally strong individuals that shared their thoughts with the world through literary works.

Unknown-1 (Maxine Hong Kingston)

Unknown (Gloria Anzaldua)

Unknown-2 (Alice Walker)

This being said, something about Gloria Anzaldua’s writing kept pulling me back to her excerpt more so than the other two writers. I can recall sitting in the library reading “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers” and feeling a kind of connection to the text. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was at the time, I just knew that there was something spectacular underlying the print on the page. After our class discussion it became more clear to me that what I was feeling was humanity. Genuine, raw emotion. How long has it been since we’ve truly felt something from a work of literature? I feel as though we’ve become complacent with the emotionally detached world in which we live. When did this become acceptable? Why are truth and passion suddenly rarities?

Gloria Anzaldua recognized these flaws in society and refused to stand by and watch them happen- at least not without a fight. In her work, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers”, Anzaldua addresses her own personal battles as a gay, Chicana woman writer and the oppression of multiple groups of women. She bluntly expresses her opinions on the wrongs of this world and how oppressed female writers can overcome their adversity.

One of my favorite passages in “Speaking in Tongues” is Anzaldua’s response to a quote by Naomi Littlebear; it says,

FLOWER (Naomi Littlebear)
“Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and hunger. I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you. To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy. To dispell the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit. To show that I can and that I will write, never mind the outraged gasp of the censor and the audience. Finally I write because I’m scared of writing but I’m more scared of not writing.” (319)

I find myself rereading it over and over again, each time feeling more empowered by her words. To try and cut down this quote is impossible; each line is an important piece of Anzaldua’s message. But when I try to break it apart, this is what I get: She writes because the world isn’t enough for her. It doesn’t give her what she deserves. She writes to tell the untold stories of those left in the shadows of “bigger, more important” people. She writes because it is a way to discover and hold onto herself, and, in the process, make her closer to her readers. But most importantly, she writes because she wants to write. She could care less about what her opposers think a woman writer should be. In the text she even states, “Forget the room of one’s own–write in the kitchen, lock yourself up in the bathroom. Write on the bus or the welfare line, on the job or during meals, between sleeping and waking. I write while sitting on the john.” (320) This statement in itself is broad, and brave, and blunt. Women in the welfare line can write? The day to day mother can be the next Emily Bronte? As basic as that is for our generation, it was pretty edgy to put into writing and it ignited a fire within the hearts of thousands of women around the world. It’s funny, really. Through her cussing and blunt shout-outs to wrongs in society, Anzaldua displayed an air of power and confidence and inspired a whole wave of strong, independent women.

These passages from “Speaking in Tongues” and various others exemplify the type of woman that Gloria Anzaldua was. A no-nonsense, sailor-mouthed warrior for equality for all people no matter the shape, size, gender, preference, or race; and the powerhouse behind a movement to end the oppression. Honestly, I feel bad for Anzaldua’s opposers.
A woman who writes has power….and a woman with power is feared.


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The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s, The Yellow Wallpaper, opens reader eyes to the medical community, specially their views on mental illness, in the 1800’s. The main character,a woman who remains nameless, has misdiagnosing of her mental illness and it taken to a sequestered home with her husband John, a physician, to hopefully get better. Anthropomorphism (to attribute a human personality or form to an inanimate object) plays an integral part throughout the short story.

“I get positively angry with the impertinence of it,and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two breadths didn’t match; and the eyes go all up and down the line, one a little higher than the other. I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression inanimate things have! I used to lie awake as a child, and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children could find in a toystore. I remember what a kindly wink the knobs of our big old bureau used to have, and there was one chair that always seemed like a strong friend” (267).


“The front pattern does move-and no wonder!

The woman behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there are great many women behind, and sometimes only one and she crawls around fast. And her crawling shakes it all over” (272).

“If only that top pattern could be gotten off from the under one! I mean to try tearing it, little by little” (272).


As the story progresses, an obvious conclusion can be drawn that the main characters mental condition steadily decreases. Writing seems to help her express her thoughts but subsequently exhausts her. As she is left alone, which is often due to the rest cure, it soothes her but heightens her mental instability at great lengths. While in her solitary confinement, she begins to stare at and relate to the wallpaper. She becomes infatuated with the paper and tearing it off the wall. It seems as though the more she intently examines the paper, the sicker she gets and wants to escape (specifically jumping out the window is something she refers to as an “admirable exercise” (273).

“”I’ve got out at last,” said I, “in spite of you and Jane! And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!”

Now why should that man have fainted?

But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had creep over him!” (274).


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How far will you go for the devotion of your sex?

The theme of loyalty can be found in Susan Glaspel’s Trifles. This loyalty is expressed between a group of women being oppressed in an extremely patriarchal society. This play begins with the a group of people trying to figure out who murdered the off-stage character John Wright, with the main suspect being his wife. As the men rummage through the house trying to find evidence, they leave the women to gather items for Mrs. Wright. The men think that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are simply dealing with their small, unimportant issues, also known as trifles, when in all reality they are solving the case. With this said, as the women begin to solve the case, their loyalty to Mrs. Wright is shown in their acts to cover up the many clues that the men don’t seem to be concerned with.  Just one case where the defiance towards this Patriarchal society these women are forced to live in.


As the scene begins, there are many examples where the men make it clear that they should not be bothered with the small “things” that women waste their time with. When they first begin to look around, they enter the kitchen. Before they sit around and criticized Mrs. Wright’s shortcomings as a wife, they begin to belittle the things in the kitchen, deeming them as unimportant in their investigation. The Sheriff himself says, “Nothing here but kitchen things” (983). Here he clearly states the unimportance of this place that has been so important in a woman’s life at this time. Once again, another gentleman Hale, begins to put down the things that many women associated themselves with, in this case focusing on Mrs. Wright’s fruit preserves. He goes on and says, “Well, women are used to worrying over trifles” (983). As these comments keep coming throughout the play, the women, more specifically Mrs. Hale, begin to stand against the men in a very passive and secretive way. As they rummage through Mrs. Wright’s things, they begin to unveil the true story, while the men are more concerned with what they consider problems that are more important. As the men continue to criticize, Mrs. Hale is still yet to completely back down, while also allowing her defiance to go under the radar. The men begin to discuss how dirty the towels were in the kitchen and assume Mrs. Wright as unfit. Immediately, Mrs. Hale answers with “Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they may be” (983). Right here is where the reader can tell that she is a little upset with the men criticing a woman’s kitchen, and she begins to stand up for Mrs. Wright immediately. She is well aware of the daunting tasks expected of a farmer’s wife while the Sheriff’s wife, Mrs. Peters is completely unaware and just responds with the inclination that these men are just doing their job and that it is okay for them to criticize Mrs. Wright.
There are many different clues that are tampered with throughout the novel. I wonder myself if the men were even capable of understanding that these things were clues, because these are things that are so unimportant and easy to look over for them. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters show a concern for this so when they run into these clues, they make the brave choice to cover them up. Their trifles give them clues to the murder while the men simply just snoop around. When they begin to rummage through her sewing kit, they come across a quilt that she had been working on. With stitches so perfect than sudden chaos, one would know that she had become mentally unstable and this could point to her murder. When seeing this, loyal Mrs. Hale begins to rip out the stitches and fix it immediately. Mrs. Peters is very uneasy about Mrs. Hale touching things, but she went along and did it anyways. Mrs. Hale stands by Mrs. Wright’s side despite the fact that every other character would rather ring her neck and shove her in the cell without thinking twice.

Example of Log Cabin Quilt Pattern

As they continue to rummage for scissors, they notice an empty bird-cage. This makes them begin to wonder where the bird could be. Shockingly, right before their eyes is a dead canary with its neck snapped inside Mrs. Wright’s sewing box. They now had her motive. “But, Mrs. Peters–look at it! Its neck! Look at its neck! It’s all–other side to” (988). Their shock overcomes them as footsteps are heard and instead of bringing it to their husband’s attention, they simply tuck the box away, still unable to understand what they have just seen.

As you can see, these women are so closely related, yet so different. They understand each other’s individual struggles that are all driven be common sources. The patriarchal society in which they are forced to live in helps them understand each other and have this loyalty that can not be broken. Mrs. Hale says it herself, “We live close together and we live far apart. We go through the same things–it’s all just a different kind of the same thing” (989). Right with that passage it shows the strong loyalty and understanding of these women.


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Kate Chopin: A Woman Before Her Time

Awakening Cover 1899

“She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before” (715).  This sentence by Kate Chopin can sum up the whole novel of The Awakening.  It shows how Edna dares and defies all societal expectations of the time.  We have learned in class that there were men and women who enjoyed and rejected the book.  Willa Cather, a female author who often wrote about frontier life on the Great Plains, called it “trite and sordid.”  To understand why Chopin would want to create a book that “swam far out” we may want to look at her earlier life.

Chopin grew up knowing how to speak English and French.  She was taught by her mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and the nuns at Sacred Heart.  Here we can see how she was heavily influenced by adult women.  Her father died in a railroad accident in 1855.  Chopin was married to Oscar Chopin in 1870 and lived in New Orleans for a couple of months in 1872.  They even went to Grand Isle for vacation.  Below, is where the Chopins ended up living in 1879: A home in northwestern Louisiana.  The house ended up burning down in 2008.

House Before Fire

Mr. Chopin ended up dying in 1882, which left Kate to raise six children on her own. We can see already that Chopin faced many deaths of people that were close to her and how she had to take on bigger responsibilities.  Her obstetrician encouraged her to write.  She was described as a woman who “could express her own considered opinions with surprising directness.”  Not only do we see this “surprising directness” in The Awakening, but we can see it some of her other short stories, such as “Desiree’s Baby” and “A Story of An Hour.”

Chopin once commented, “human existence in its subtle, complex, true meaning, stripped of the veil with which ethical and conventional standards have draped it.”  This comment is useful in understanding what Chopin may have meant by The Awakening.  There is more meaning to life, then just obeying conventional rules.  Chopin may have been trying to say that without these standards, a woman (or anyone) had the opportunity to find the true meaning to life.  When Chopin’s grandmother died in 1897, she began to work on The Awakening.  I was hoping to find out that Chopin died of some magnificent death that defied all societal expectations, but I was let down.  Doctors say that she died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

A lot of her life experiences were reflected her in works.  We can see that her education came from many women and that her father wasn’t around long enough to make a significant impact.  Maybe Chopin did not have an exact feminist view when she wrote The Awakening, but just wanted to convey that women had feelings and desires too.

In Chopin’s “A Story of An Hour” we see how the main character is set free once she learns of her husband’s death.  (The death was caused by a railroad accident, which can be connected to Chopin’s father’s death).  In a way the female character is elated by the fact that she does not have to succumb to a man’s wishes.

By the end of the story, once the woman finds out that her husband was in fact not dead, she died herself.  We can read this short story with a feminist view and say that the woman died because she was upset that she would have to be forced back into a lifestyle she thought she escaped.  Or, we can say the woman died because she was so happy to see her husband, her heart just could not take.

For me, I think Chopin did write to express her views.  People of her time characterized her as having “surprising directness,” so I do actually think Chopin wrote of her own awakening.  She may not have had a husband that never took care of the children, like Edna did, but Chopin might have seen other experiences where this was the case and she wanted to express her views on the matter.  Without an interview from Chopin, we are able to tell that she put many of her real life experiences into her works.  So, part of me wants to assume that Kate Chopin was before her time and wanted the same rights as men.  Of course, this may not be the case, but we can agree that an awakening did occur.

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Love and Water

Edna Pontellier’s appending suicide has been considered one of the most controversial endings in the history of literature.  The sacredness of the sea and her lack of interest in her domestic duties elude to the notion that Edna does indeed drift off into the water with the intention of killing herself, but this is not known for sure.  Chopin writes:

The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to waner for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lost itself in mazes of inqard contemplation.

The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.  The touch of the sea is senuous, enfolding the body in its soft, clost embrace. (705)

There is an interesting article written by Rich Christie that connects Edna’s need for independence and self-discovery with her growing passion for the sea.  What once was an irrational fear has turned into an escape from reality.  As a small child, Enda felt a deep fear of drowing and instability while wading through the water.  It is not until she is an adult that she begins to realize that the water creaetes a sense of peace and isolation.  Chopin says, “Once she turned and looked toward the shore, toward the people she had left there. She had not gone any great distance – that is, what would have been a great distance for an experienced swimmer. But to her unaccustomed vision the stretch of water behind her assumed the aspect of a barrier which her unaided strength would enver be able to overcome” (715).  As Edna looks longingly toward the shore, there is this sense that the sea represents the “infinite” and “engulfing” emotions that flow through her.  The fact that her husband is away, her children are at their grandmother’s and she had thought about buying a small house for her own eludes to Edna’s deperate attempt at forming her own inderpendence away from the typical Creole lifestyle.  Edna is attracted to everything that goes against her society.  She begins a quest to find her individuality and find the things in life that satisfy her needs rather than the needs of her family.  “Edna looked straight before her with a self-absorbed expression upon her face. She felt no interest in anything about her” (733).  Edna no longer felt no interest in attending to anything other than her own happiest, and even that was not on top of her list.

The past was nothing to her; offered no lesson which was willing to heed. The future was a mystery which she never attempted to penetrate” (728).

When Chopin says that Enda’s future was never a concern of hers, there is this sense that the future was not important because she never planned on having a future.  Her suicide could have been pending and building up for a very long time.   She didn’t think about the future because her death was pre-determined, the future simply did not matter.  This quote backs up the idea made by many critics that her suicide was intentional; that Edna drifted into the water with the intention that she was going to kill herself.  I do not think that this is the case at all.  Edna’s previous irrational fear of water is wiped away, and as she drifts into the sea there is this sense that she is finally able to trust what she has feared just as she has been able to stand up for herself in a society that did not accept women as equals.  The water represents her finally liberating herself from what was unjust; and just as she felt a barrier between herself and the shore earlier in the novel, Edna feels an isolation that finally brings her at peace.

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“A Journey” Literally and Figuratively

In Edith Warton’s ” A Journey” we are placed in the middle of a story with a wife taking care of her very ill husband. From the start we see a dynamic that has not yet been touched in our past readings of women writers.

“The man she had married had been strong, active, gently masterful: the male whose pleasure it is to clear a way through the material obstructions of life; but now it was she who was the protector, he who must be shielded from importunities and given his drops or beef- juice through the skies falling” (276).

This women, who is never named, longs for husband to be healthy once again. She yearns for him to take back his part as the head of their relationship, to be the rightful protector and provider in their marriage. It was interesting to read this and see that she out right wanted him in control. At a time when women were automatically put underneath men in status of all respects and in every aspect of marriage life, this women did not want the power she had.In creating this character Wharton made a choice to expose a fear; fear of the unknown.

Though it may have been a great desire to have the freedom to do what one pleased, this women saw the harm in it. Rather than saying, ” I can do anything you can” she said ” I know my place and I know your place; we are better in our respective places”. As the husband’s health further declined, his eventual death on the journey was inevitable. And in the reading I personally felt a selfishness arise in the wife and I, at first was quite off put.

“”Within the next hour she might find herself on the platform of some strange station, alone with her husband’s body…. Anything but that! It was too horrible-She quivered like a creature at bay” (278).

After reading this I immediately felt bad from the husband that his wife would be so horrified at being thrown out of the train that she would conceal his death. I thought surely she will say something, something to acknowledge that the time had come and she was in mourning. And after reading it a second time, I realized that she had done something in mourning; she covered it up. And the mourning that primarily took her over was not due to the death of her husband, it was due to the “death” of herself.  Wharton drops this hint to us before the death if the husband. “When they married, she had such arrears of living to make up: her days had been as bare as the white-washed school-room where she forced innutritious facts upon reluctant children. His coming had broken in on the slumber of circumstance, widening the present till it became the encloser of remotest chances” (276). Here we see that her marriage was a new chance at life that she had yet to explore. In her husband’s death, all that she had hoped for, and dreamt would be waiting for her, had died too.

In this story we follow this woman on her travel back to New York. But we also travel with her on her journey back to what seems to be the end of her life. She goes through the joy of being able to take her husband back home and feeling that everything will work out. Thinking that her marriage will still do what she hoped it would; free and expand her horizons. We then watch it fall down around her as her husband dies and in the end we watch it consume her. Wharton did a great job of allowing us to be apart of this journey in every way and to understand the many journeys that life presents us with.


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Sexuality and Selfhood Through Music in The Awakening



In Kate Chopin‘s controversial and iconic novel, The Awakeningshe touches on many subjects which where appalling to readers in 1899, such as sexuality and selfhood. Mrs. Pontellier, the protagonist of the work, undergoes a tremendous “Awakening”, beginning most prominently with a sensual, powerful and exhilarating experience with music.

“The very first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier’s spinal column. It was not the first time she has heard an artist at the piano. Perhaps it was the first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth” (713).


“She saw no pictures of solitude, of hope, of longing, or of despair. But the very passions themselves aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily seat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking, and the tears blinded her” (714).

Chopin’s use of words such as “passions,” “aroused,” and “splendid body” transformed Mrs. Pontellier’s musical experience into something much more profound and life changing, rather than just hearing a piece and creating a small anecdote in her mind. By listening to this Madame Reisz at the piano, she tapped into a party of her sexuality, which had been tightly clasped in a metaphorical jar of oppression, locked by her husband and even children.  The constant need to be a “Mother Woman,” completely hinders a woman’s sense of sexuality and selfhood. By abiding to the constant need to be a perfect mother and wife, a woman loses a self of herself and her sexuality. Edna’s musical experience along side Madame Reisz gave light to the green and yellow parrot which had been caged tightly.





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The Rest Cure In Relation To “The Yellow Wallpaper”



Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) whom is most famous for her authorization of The Yellow Wallpaper (1891) was a women writer ahead of her time. Gilman creates a horrifying image of entrapment in the short story, illustrating a semi-autobiographical picture of a young woman undergoing the rest cure treatment by her husband, whom is also her psychiatrist. Gilman exploited the rest cure in The Yellow Wallpaper to alert other women of the damaging effects of the treatment.    

In 1887 after the birth of her daughter, Gilman became severely depressed and sought treatment for nervous exhaustion by psychiatrist Silas Weir Mitchell. Mitchell’s rest cure consisted of bed rest, isolation, overfeeding, and massage/electricity on her muscles. When Gilman realized that Mitchell’s treatment worsened her depression, she left both her husband and doctor. Several years later, Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a reaction to her physician Mitchell’s prescribed rest cure. In her essay “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper?” Gilman wrote, “Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper with its embellishments and additions to carry out the ideal (I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman). 

To contextualize the story, Gilman visualized her husband and her physician as the same person. Gilman illuminated that during her treatment, both men imprisoned her and treated her with intolerable cruelty. Gilman felt that both men manipulated her and suffocated her artistic integrity during the time she underwent treatment. In Gilman’s story, the narrator said, “John is a physician, and perhaps—I wouldn’t say it to a living soul of course, but this dead paper, and a great relief to my mind—perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster” (265). Gilman illuminates that neither her husband nor her physician listened to her when she confided in them during her treatment. Furthermore, the narrator said, “It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so” (269). In this statement, Gilman highlights both men’s behavior towards her during her treatment. In the story, John did not listen to the narrator when she told him that she felt that the treatment was ineffective. In this passage she also criticizes submissive women. The narrator’s statement appears very obedient and agreeable which makes the narrator look subservient. However, John was silencing the narrator because he had no respect for her. When the narrator attempts to approach John about returning home, he responds with, “What is it little girl?” and “Why, darling,” coddling her and illuminating his lack of respect for her (269-270). He continues, “The repairs are not done at home, and I can’t possibly leave town just now. Of course if you were in any danger I could and would, but you really are better, dear, whether you can see it or not” (270). John does not listen to her and continues to ignore her pleas. John’s behavior towards the narrator conveys his nonexistent concern for her health and happiness. Furthermore, he does not want to be proven wrong by a woman, therefore, enforces reverse psychology, in hopes that she will discover the fault is within her, not him.

Gilman highlights the narrator’s entrapment to further emphasize her own personal struggle. In the story the narrator said, “I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs, that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the windows, and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings; but John wouldn’t hear of it” (265). Although she detested the room, she was trapped by her husband and had no means of escape. Gilman continued, “It is a big airy room, the whole floor nearly, with windows that look all ways, and air and sunlight galore. It was nursery first, and then playroom and gymnasium, I should judge, for the windows are barred for little children and there are rings and things in the walls” (266). The narrator was coddled and pampered as if she were a child; however, John did not attend to her when she needed him. In fact, he rarely attended to her. Instead, he left her alone in a nursery with barred windows. When he was around, he treated her as if she were a child, not a woman. This treatment reflects the statements he says to her throughout the story. In The Yellow Wallpaper, Gilman illustrates the disrespect both her husband and psychiatrist had for her through the characterization of John.

Gilman was not the only woman writer whom underwent treatment for the rest cure. According to Suzanne Poirier, “By the time he (Mitchell) died in 1914, the Weir Mitchell Rest Cure had been translated into four other languages and had committed disciples around the world, despite the growing reputation of Sigmund Freud” (Suzanne Poirier). However, Gilman was not the only woman writer prescribed to the rest cure. Poirer recognized that other well-established women writers were also prescribed (and later criticized) his treatment. According to Poirier, “Mitchell’s treatment of Jane Addams, Winifred Howells, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and the use of his treatment on Virginia Woolf caused cries of protest from all these women or their families” (Suzanne Poirer). When Mitchell’s treatment had expanded overseas, Woolf was prescribed Mitchell’s rest cure. Similar to Gilman and other women writers, Woolf criticized his treatment methods, also suggesting that her depression had worsened. Woolf deliberately mentions the rest cure in her novel Mrs. Dalloway through both autobiographical and fictional recounts. Mrs. Dalloway serves as a warning of the fatalities of utilizing medicalization for repressing grief. 

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story has had such an artistic impact on creative spirits alike. Here is a link to The Yellow Wallpaper R&D Trailer, which is an experimental dance piece choreographed by Paul Chantry: 


And don’t forget…


Works Cited:

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper.” Forerunner. Oct 1913:

271-272. Web. 21 Mar. 2013. <http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015014168648;seq=279;view=1up;num=271&gt;.

Poirier, Suzanne. “The Weir Mitchell Rest Cure: Doctor and Patients.”Women’s Studies 10.1 (1983): 15-40. Print.

Sobin, C., and H. A. Sackeim. “Psychomotor Symptoms of Depression.” The American journal of psychiatry 154.1 (1997): 4. Print.