Epistolary In Charlotte Gilman’s Feminist Text The Yellow Wallpaper

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Part A – Analytical Paragraph

A confronting insight into the oppressive societal attitudes of 19th century America, Charlotte Gilman’s feminist text “The Yellow Wallpaper” employs an epistolary form to powerfully represent the shared experiences of alienation and suppression that emerge from the conflict between women afflicted by mental illness and their patriarchy.

By fashioning an anonymous narrator who states “Personally I disagree” with the ‘rest cure’, “But what is one to do?”, Gilman vents her frustrations through the epistolary voice, using a rhetorical question to reinforce her lack of autonomy as a ‘nameless’ figure in society, unable to challenge masculine attitudes towards mental health.

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Gilman thereby strengthens the epistolary voice through metafiction, where the narrator tells the audience, “There comes John, I must put this away – he hates to have me write”, heightening the tension between women and their oppressive society through conscious interruptions to her writing, alluding to the widespread prejudices against female intellectual works during the late 19th century.

Consequently, the narrator’s growing alienation from society stems from her loss of personal agency and voice, portrayed structurally through progressively shorter diary entries, where she claims “I don’t want to…I don’t feel able” to write. Through the increasing use of anaphora and truncated sentences, the narrator’s changing writing style parallels her descent to madness, whereby the epistolary form provides an insight into her inner conflict as she becomes consumed by the “hideous” wallpaper. Ultimately, she is unable to overcome her universal struggle for self-expression, confined to the gender roles represented by the “mysterious woman” who is trapped “under the paper”. Therefore, through the epistolary form, Gilman explores the conflict between women and their oppressive patriarchy, illuminating a universal struggle for voice and personal agency within the human experience.

Part B – Creative Writing

My Shattered Past

Have you ever tried to forget about something, and the more that you try to forget it, the more you think about it, and then the more you think about it, the more you remember?

I know, you may wonder why anyone would have such a peculiar thought. But I guess to me, it explains a lot, why I’ve had such a hard time letting go of my past.

It’s so frustrating, how people these days treat me like some sort of monster, as if their loved ones should have returned instead of me, as if I was to blame for the deaths in that camp. But I guess you can’t blame them. After all, I’m a living reminder of what others are trying to forget.

Apparently, xI was one of the lucky ones. Few children had survived that camp, let alone come out fully intact. But to be honest, I wouldn’t mind a missing arm or leg if it earned me a bit of sympathy. Maybe people would try to understand me for once.

Ironic isn’t it? How others only pay attention to our visible scars, never the ones etched deep beneath our skin, the ones that last much longer and hurt much, much more.

Such memories continue to live on in my dreams. They remind me of what I have endured, what I have lost, but most of all, my shattered past and the horrors that I can never escape.


Memories remind me of what I have endured…

In Omarska, walking corpses are conceived from healthy men. Sunken cheeked, hollowed eyed, bodies frail and emaciated from starvation.

They had been reduced to mere animals. Like caged chickens, packed in the stifling airless heat of corrugated sheds. Like pigs confined to a pen of human filth and decay, only to be slaughtered in the ‘White house’, the human abattoir where Serbian guards unleashed their sadistic desires through deeply intimate beatings.

Yet among the nameless mass of prisoners crammed into these sheds, the boy and his father continued to fight on, desperately clinging onto the hope they found in one another. Together they sat crossed-legged on the crimson dirt-ground, the father tracing the intricate outline of a cake in the dirt while the boy gulped down his watery bean stew like some famished dog.

“Sretan rođendan, Sretan rodendan…”

The father quietly sang the melody to a Ravne pesme, the boy holding back tears as memories of Sarajevo surged through his head.

“Make a wish my boy”.

Closing his eyes, the boy blew gently on the eleven candles traced in the dirt.

He pictured the sweet glimpses of his childhood, a time where he chased his friends along the stone-paved streets of Sarajevo.

He imagined dancing his heart out to the folk music from nearby buskers, savouring the aroma of freshly baked baklava wafting from street vendors in the Pijaca Markale down the road.

He wished his father would continue supporting him, that they could return home together.


Memories remind me of what I have lost…

The unmistakeable click of rifles followed by an onslaught of bullets. Guttural screams followed by a succession of heavy thuds. The camp became the stage for a concerto of death, conjured up by a dissonant melody of high-pitched cries and the steady staccato of gunshots.

The sharp crack of his skull against concrete, his pencil-thin limbs splayed across the ground like discoloured orchids spread atop a grave.

Among the spectating prisoners, the boy watched as his father’s emaciated figure fell limp, tears spilling down his cheeks like the blood dripping from his father’s wounds, his broken shrieks adding to the hallowing choir of bereaved prisoners.

Just another corpse in the sea of bodies lining the ditch, another victim to the camp’s routine killings.

The threads of hope which had connected them so deeply now lay in tatters, its thin strands of fleeting joy severed one by one with each passing day.

The last thread had snapped.

He was truly alone.


Memories are the horrors that I can never escape…

The authorities said they could ‘help’ him.

As if they could simply dump him into an orphanage let time to mend his wounds.

As if the months of hunger and starvation and death had left no mark on his mind.

They could cover up his scars, mend his bones, heal his wounds; but it was only a thin veneer spread over his broken insides. They could never piece back the shattered remnants of his childhood, never free him from his dreaded memories.

“zasto si ziv”, says the street vendor as she charges him extra for a slice of baklava, her husband culled by the Serbs in Omarska.

“zasto si ziv”, says his classmate, his mother raped then beaten to death in the ‘White House’.

“zasto si ziv”, says the growing voice in his head.

Was it his fault that they had died? Was it a crime to have survived?

Should he have died instead of his father?


These memories are like books with chapters, deep and horrible; vivid accounts of a shattered past which reside in the darkest crevices of my mind. But I guess it’s impossible to let these books gather dust forever. Eventually I’m going to have to pick them up and start reading.

Start remembering.

Part C – Reflection

Drawing from Charlotte Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and Nam Le’s ‘Love and Honour’, ‘My Shattered Past’ uses the motif of memories and a metafictive voice to explore the tensions between wartime survivors and their society in the context of the Bosnian war, illuminating the brutality of concentration camps and its lasting impact on victims.

Inspired by my reading of Gilman’s text and her effective use of motifs, I deliberately constructed my story around the motif of memories, where each fragmented vignette represents a “shattered remnant” of my protagonist’s past, symbolic of the way his time in Omarska had broken him both physically and psychologically. Similar to the way the “hideous” wallpaper drove Gilman’s narrator to insanity, my protagonist’s inability to reconcile with “his dreaded memories” and traumatic past ultimately leads to his disconnection from society, mirroring the sense of alienation I felt from Gilman’s narrator.

Through my reading of Nam Le’s text, I took inspiration from his use of metafiction which enhanced the authenticity of his personal voice. However, I deliberately structured my story in a hybrid form where I enhance my metafictive first-person narration with third-person vignettes to provide more confronting details about my protagonist’s traumatic past, providing the reader with a greater insight into his inner conflict and allowing them to empathise with him on a deeper emotional level.   


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