This week, I read the classic horror story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, published in 1892. You can read it here! It was my first time reading this one, and boy did I enjoy it. A lot of it–in particular John’s scenes, obviously–was infuriating, but that’s how a good story should be, and it pays off in dividends by the end.
I promised to analyze it in the blog post, so here we are. There’s been plenty of high school essays written on this subject, so I’ll only touch on a few aspects. I discuss in the episode the theme of John infantilizing the nameless narrator, so I’ll instead focus on her… madness, we’ll call it, to play into the setting.
The nailed-down bed, rings in the walls, and bars on the windows all point to there having been another woman confined in the same nursery as our narrator. When she starts seeing a woman trapped behind the front pattern of the wallpaper, one might assume that it is the ghost of the previous woman. By the end of the story, the narrator begins talking about how she escaped from the wall and has the rope intended for the woman in the wall tied around herself. She seems to be mixing up her husband’s sister with someone else, calling her “Jane” instead of “Jennie.” Perhaps she has been possessed.
The other theory is that our narrator has been driven to hallucination by isolation and lack of stimulus. This has been known to happen. She is shown to be a writer and knowledgeable of design, clearly a creative mind that can entertain itself when nothing else will. She begs her husband to let her visit other people, leave the house, stay in a more interesting room: all solutions that involve more stimulation. This is, actually, a central criticism of the rest cure. The human mind needs stimulation.
I don’t think these theories are mutually exclusive. The knowledge that another woman was previously confined in the same nursery lends a cyclical aspect to the whole story–this has happened before, and it will happen again. In that sense, as with many horror stories, this one can be read as a blend of concrete and abstract meaning.
Alright, that’s enough literary analysis. I also read “The Clockmaker” by Robert Louis Stevenson, which you can read here! I accidentally said I was categorizing it as comic horror when I actually meant cosmic horror: the idea that there are things in the cosmos beyond our comprehension, in this case rendered through the eyes of animalculae in a caraffe of water. It’s still funny though. Horror and comedy do go hand in hand.
Finally, I haven’t had time to play much music lately! So I have a few recommendations for creepy tunes:
- They Might Be Giants has made a playlist of their Halloween sounds, which you can find on Spotify or YouTube. I’m especially fond of the first track, “Marty Beller Mask.”
- My personal favorite horror album is Diabolical Streak by Jill Tracy. I’ve seen it described as neo-cabaret, and who wouldn’t love that? You can find it on bandcamp here.
- “The Dismemberment Song” by Blue Kid. It’s a song about taking back control after a relationship gone poorly, and it’s an absolute blast. When my dad and I were on our way to see Little Shop of Horrors, I played it to get in the mood, and my dad thought it was from the soundtrack. I can’t think of a better selling point than that.
- I’ve gotta get in my requisite Pinc Louds song! This week it’s “My Teeth.” It’s got bones in it.
Thank you for sticking around to the end of this lengthy post! Hope you’ve enjoyed my horror picks, we’ll probably be leaving the horror theme behind next week. Maybe not. But probably.
Your DJ/Dinner Companion,
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