It Might Be a Poor Critique of the Literature, but a Good Mimetic Evaluation

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From Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism:


“…as Emily Dickinson put it, her ‘life’ has been ‘shaven and fitted to a frame,’ a confinement she can only tolerate by believing that ‘the soul has moments of escape/When bursting all the doors/She dances like a bomb abroad.’”  page 260


“…but Dickinson, reporting that ‘I do not cross my Father’s ground to any house in town,’ was recording a real, self-willed, self-burial.”  page 260


I had hoped that this would be an interesting interpretation of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman,” a story that I had enjoyed so much, but instead I found it to be rather hypocritical and written in the type of feminist viewpoint that I do not enjoy. 


Take, for instance, the two lines above.  I don’t think I need to point out to you the hypocrisy of these two lines, but no one who imprisons themselves can blame anyone else for their imprisonment.  Yes, outside factors can contribute to depression which sometimes created the feeling of necessary self-confinement; however I think Gilbert and Gubar have the wrong idea.  As Greta mentioned last week in class, no one can look at a fictional poem or story and say that the author is a character in the story or is the voice in the poem.  Should we assume that J.K. Rowling went to Hogwarts just because she gives a vivid explanation of it?  Should we presume that George Lucas has a star fighter parked in his garage because he could create such a complete vision of one for the screen?  Of course not.  We recognize these as works of fiction, but cannot see that more realistic stories and poems can be, and are, fictional as well.   


Furthermore, the authors suggest that Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a “rebellious feminist” (263).  If you do any research on Gilman’s life, you will find that she was not really a feminist, but a humanist, even calling herself one, working for rights for men and women alike, even though she was involved in many women’s groups.  If she is a feminist, then she is not the sort that is described in this article. 


Finally, the biggest problem I have with the authors is that they used three excellent authors, but three somewhat disturbed women to make their points: Emily Dickinson, a lifelong recluse, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Sylvia Plath who both exhibited psychological disorders and killed themselves.  These are not the sort of strong, reliable female authors to choose in order to support their opinion.  Or perhaps Gilbert and Gubar wanted the readers to take pity on these women because they were being put down by men.  But maybe this is exactly the type of women they needed to use to prove their point through mimetic criticism, for it can’t be denied that women’s place was in the home and usually only in the home during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as in 1950s.


See what others have to say about Gilvert and Gubar.


Katie Vann said:

Erica, I felt the same way after I read this article. I thought they related Gilman too much with the narrator by referring to her experiences with post-partum depression and claiming that is what the narrator was experiecing in "The Yellow Wallpaper". I liked that you pointed out that this is a fictional work and to add to that we need to remember that our narrator is unreliable.

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