Instructors’ Teaching Experience

My students in Spring 2010 had a problem with the message of this story. Or more precisely, they disliked how Gilman made her point. Most of my class felt that Gilman took too long to make her point and did not make her point very clear. We turned this class discussion on “The Yellow Wallpaper” partly into a discussion of how artists can best deliver a message to an audience. My students’ critique of Gilman was they were unsure if the narrator was crazy before or after undergoing the rest cure. What one student would have liked is another perspective on the story – someone to corroborate narrator’s perspective. [L. Sweeney,]

My students in Fall 2010 had difficulty separating the characters from “real people.”  They had difficulty getting over their anger at John.  While some anger was useful, it became apparent that I needed to spend some time explaining the fact that authors construct characters and that these were not real people (despite Gilman’s real-life experiences).  [V. Nakoski,]

Classroom Strategies

To begin our discussion of “The Yellow Wallpaper” I passed out Coventry Patmore’s poem “The Paragon” from The Angel in the House, which is now used as a phrase to refer to 19th century conceptions of ideal womanhood (especially in contrast with the New Woman). I also gave a quick overview on Victorians notions of motherhood and marriage, using two advertisements and webpages as examples (see links under additional information). I think this really helped to contextualize “The Yellow Wallpaper,” but I would advise against doing this exercise on the first day. By doing providing this historical background on the first day, I think I controlled the initial discussion to tightly by keeping students from exploring less conventional and less autobiographical readings. I will say however, that I think providing the students with this material proved extremely helpful when they were writing papers. Many students used the Patmore poem to support various readings of the narrator and John and showed a greater understanding of the time period. [T. Taylor,]

I taught “The Yellow Wallpaper” early in the semester and used it partially as a way to get my students to focus on changing how they read. Most of my students were not used to close reading, so I had them read the story for homework, we talked about it as a class and then they went home and re-read the story. When they came to the next class, they felt much more engaged with the text, which illustrated the value of close reading and re-reading, and it also worked as a good segue into watching a film adaptation of the story. Because they had worked so closely with the story, they were able to, in just 30-35 minutes, write some really thoughtful in-class essays comparing the story and film. Specifically, I asked them to choose one significant difference between the story and film and write about why that difference was significant. This assignment also worked well because my students really enjoyed the film, in all its ’80s glory.

Before we got to the film, though, we talked a lot about context. I had them read Perkins Gilman’s essay “Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,'” and I think they really enjoyed hearing the author’s intent. It also allowed us to talk about literature (and other art) as a way to create social change. We also read Perkins Gilman’s poem “Wedded Bliss” and used it as a way to discuss the author’s possible views on marriage and to discuss marriage during the time in general. [S. Goehring,]