Essay Comparing The Giant Wistaria And Yellow Wallpaper

927 words - 4 pages

Comparing The Giant Wistaria and The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story, "The Giant Wistaria" was first published in June 1891 in The New England Magazine, the same journal that would publish "The Yellow Wallpaper" a year later in 1892. These were difficult years in Gilman's life: she had separated from her first husband, artist Charles Walter Stetson, and was attempting, unsuccessfully, to resolve her contradictory desires, on one hand, to be a good wife and mother in conventional terms, and on the other, to be autonomous and seriously dedicated to her work. In 1891-1892, Gilman (still using the name Stetson) was enjoying her first literary successes, confirming ...view middle of the document...

and Mrs. Jenny, their "pretty sisters" and their sisters' suitors--discover the house's horrific secret. Gloria A. Biamonte's interpretation of "The Giant Wistaria" implicitly casts the young set as a community of readers and emphasizes the divisions of that community by gender. It is the women who are at first convinced that the house must have "a story, if we could only find it," while the men merely scoff and tease until the house will no longer permit that careless attitude. In addition, at the story's end it becomes clear that the women will be the house's most sensitive and skillful readers, as it is perhaps also clear that its gothic tale is intended as a warning for themselves.

What, then, does the house represent? Like the "ancestral mansion" of "The Yellow Wallpaper," the house beneath "The Giant Wistaria" is a symbol of patriarchal culture. Built, maintained, and controlled by men, the house is a place of entrapment for the woman at the story's center. The wistaria, on the other hand, is clearly a symbol of female presence and of the power of women (cast as a formidable force of nature) to dismantle patriarchal constructs: having been nurtured as a tender slip by the young woman's mother in part one, it comes to engulf the house in part two, threatening even to bring it down.

While the young Jennys and their siblings "move toward uncovering [the] century-old tale of a woman and her child--a tale that we, as readers, have been partly told in the opening segment of the story" (Biamonte 33-34), readers of "The Giant Wistaria" have a double duty to perform. First, with the characters of the story's second part, we too must attempt to read across at least a century of silence to reconstruct the first woman's story....

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