A Holistic Reading of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Khawla Ouni


Hysteria is, according to ninetieth and mid-twentieth-century medical discourse, a female malady resulting from her vulnerable body and wandering uterus. On the contrary, males are regarded as all but exempt against neurosis due to their so-called rationality. Such a claim has been backed up by the fact that hysterical women outnumber their male counterparts. Contra this reductionist perception, the present article, following a reading of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story entitled “The Yellow Wallpaper” through a holistic paradigm, posits that psychic pathology is the by-product of a medical and socially gendered heteroglossia. What sounds, at face value, like personal schizophrenia echoes the hysteria of the political arena. This premise is backed up by the ideas of T. S. Eliot, Freudian theories along with the Russian philosopher Michael Bakhtin, and feminist critics, whose common thread resides in embracing a holistic vision of concepts rather than basing their interpretations upon a reductionist prototype. The article under scrutiny elucidates the concept of holism. Then, it moves on to delve into hysteria as a social product, a belief juxtaposed with the taxonomy of nineteenth-century medical discourse. This paves the ground to the ultimate part dwelling upon Gilman’s protagonist hysteria as related to the social environment. Focus then will be shed on the cult of domesticity, i.e. marriage, motherhood, and male-female power struggle, within the context of the present text.


hysteria, heteroglossia, gender, holism.

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