Changing Janes: “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a Case of Dual Consciousness

Helen Pinsent

Abstract


Charlotte Perkins Gilman originally wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) to criticize a medical treatment known as the “rest cure,” which was commonly prescribed for women suffering from “neurasthenia” or a lack of nervous energy. Gilman had personally experienced the “rest cure” as a period of intense suffering, and she was pleased to learn that her story had successfully convinced physicians to alter their treatment methods. As neurologists stopped diagnosing “neurasthenia” in the early twentieth century, however, Gilman’s story gradually fell into obscurity. It was not rediscovered until the early 1970s, when it was recognized as a landmark of feminist literature. It has since been the topic of countless essays that have struggled to explain how the apparent madness of the protagonist can also be interpreted as a form of feminist emancipation. Helen Pinsent’s paper covers much of the same territory, although she does two things that are highly original and innovative: 1) she discusses Gilman’s story not in terms of “neurasthenia” but rather in terms of non-unitary theories of the mind and 2) she shows how this new scientific context potentially resolves the ambiguity of the story’s conclusion by suggesting that “losing one’s mind” and “finding oneself” are not necessarily contradictory possibilities. Pinsent thus implies that Gilman appropriated the scientific concept of “double consciousness” to describe the experience of patriarchal oppression and resistance. —Dr. Anthony Enns

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