Only Madness Reveals Meaning: A Creative Re-Reading of “The Yellow Wall-Paper”

Paper Title: Only Madness Reveals Meaning: A Creative Re-Reading of “The Yellow Wall-Paper”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman has been very clear about the origins of her 1892 short story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” Originally published under her married name of Charlotte Perkins Stetson in The New England Magazine, it is, without question, a reaction to and revolt against the insidious trend of gaslighting and misogyny in the medical field, of which Gilman herself was a victim. However, I argue that there is also a way of interpreting the story that challenges the reader’s understanding of what madness is – and how important a tool it is in the lives of all those who love art.

This paper provides a “creative re-reading” of “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” identifying ways in which the story, through its characters, setting, and narrative structure, vividly depicts the experience of encountering, consuming, and working to understand art, positing that the process of engaging with art is inherently an exercise in embracing, rather than fearing or curing, madness. I draw on a range of examples to situate this reading in the larger context of the world of art, including interpretations of and reactions to controversial and much-studied artists and writers like Marcel DuChamp and Gertrude Stein, as well as the influence of power structures and audiences that seek to censor and ban art that defies their fixed interpretation of the world.

Ultimately, this paper seeks to encourage keeping a mind so open that one risks losing it, in the pursuit of truly immersing oneself in art.

Author: Aimee Kling