The yellow wallpaper and.., p.5
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, p.5Charlotte Perkins Gilman
These pockets came as a revelation. Of course she had known they were there, had counted them, made fun of them, mended them, even envied them; but she never had dreamed of how it felt to have pockets.
Behind her newspaper she let her consciousness, that odd mingled consciousness, rove from pocket to pocket, realizing the armored assurance of having all those things at hand, instantly get-at-able, ready to meet emergencies. The cigar case gave her a warm feeling of comfort—it was full; the firmly held fountain pen, safe unless she stood on her head; the keys, pencils, letters, documents, notebook, checkbook, bill folder—all at once, with a deep rushing sense of power and pride, she felt what she had never felt before in all her life—the possession of money, of her own earned money—hers to give or to withhold, not to beg for, tease for, wheedle for—hers.
That bill—why, if it had come to her—to him, that is—he would have paid it as a matter of course, and never mentioned it—to her.
Then, being he, sitting there so easily and firmly with his money in his pockets, she wakened to his life-long consciousness about money. Boyhood—its desires and dreams, ambitions. Young manhood—working tremendously for the wherewithal to make a home—for her. The present years with all their net of cares and hopes and dangers; the present moment, when he needed every cent for special plans of great importance, and this bill, long overdue and demanding payment, meant an amount of inconvenience wholly unnecessary if it had been given him when it first came; also, the man’s keen dislike of that “account rendered.”
“Women have no business sense!” she found herself saying. “And all that money just for hats—idiotic, useless, ugly things!”
With that she began to see the hats of the women in the car as she had never seen hats before. The men’s seemed normal, dignified, becoming, with enough variety for personal taste, and with distinction in style and in age, such as she had never noticed before. But the women’s—
With the eyes of a man and the brain of a man; with the memory of a whole lifetime of free action wherein the hat, close-fitting on cropped hair, had been no handicap; she now perceived the hats of women.
The massed fluffed hair was at once attractive and foolish, and on that hair, at every angle, in all colors, tipped, twisted, tortured into every crooked shape, made of any substance chance might offer, perched these formless objects. Then, on their formlessness the trimmings—these squirts of stiff feathers, these violent outstanding bows of glistening ribbon, these swaying, projecting masses of plumage which tormented the faces of bystanders.
Never in all her life had she imagined that this idolized millinery could look, to those who paid for it, like the decorations of an insane monkey.
And yet, when there came into the car a little woman, as foolish as any, but pretty and sweet-looking, up rose Gerald Mathewson and gave her his seat. And, later, when there came in a handsome red-cheeked girl, whose hat was wilder, more violent in color and eccentric in shape than any other—when she stood nearby and her soft curling plumes swept his cheek once and again—he felt a sense of sudden pleasure at the intimate tickling touch—and she, deep down within, felt such a wave of shame as might well drown a thousand hats forever.
When he took his train, his seat in the smoking car, she had a new surprise. All about him were the other men, commuters too, and many of them friends of his.
To her, they would have been distinguished as “Mary Wade’s husband,” “the man Belle Grant is engaged to,” “that rich Mr. Shopworth,” or “that pleasant Mr. Beale.” And they would all have lifted their hats to her, bowed, made polite conversation if near enough—especially Mr. Beale.
Now came the feeling of open-eyed acquaintance, of knowing men—as they were. The mere amount of this knowledge was a surprise to her—the whole background of talk from boyhood up, the gossip of barber-shop and club, the conversation of morning and evening hours on trains, the knowledge of political affiliation, of business standing and prospects, of character—in a light she had never known before.
They came and talked to Gerald, one and another. He seemed quite popular. And as they talked, with this new memory and new understanding, an understanding which seemed to include all these men’s minds, there poured in on the submerged consciousness beneath a new, a startling knowledge—what men really think of women.
Good, average, American men were there; married men for the most part, and happy—as happiness goes in general. In the minds of each and all there seemed to be a two-story department, quite apart from the rest of their ideas, a separate place where they kept their thoughts and feelings about women.
In the upper half were the tenderest emotions, the most exquisite ideals, the sweetest memories, all lovely sentiments as to “home” and “mother,” all delicate admiring adjectives, a sort of sanctuary, where a veiled statue, blindly adored, shared place with beloved yet commonplace experiences.
In the lower half—here that buried consciousness woke to keen distress—they kept quite another assortment of ideas. Here, even in this clean-minded husband of hers, was the memory of stories told at men’s dinners, of worse ones overheard in street or car, of base traditions, coarse epithets, gross experiences—known, though not shared.
And all these in the department “woman,” while in the rest of the mind—here was new knowledge indeed.
The world opened before her. Not the world she had been reared in—where Home had covered all the map, almost, and the rest had been “foreign,” or “unexplored country,” but the world as it was—man’s world, as made, lived in, and seen, by men.
It was dizzying. To see the houses that fled so fast across the car window, in terms of builders’ bills, or of some technical insight into materials and methods; to see a passing village with lamentable knowledge of who “owned it” and of how its Boss was rapidly aspiring in state power, or of how that kind of paving was a failure; to see shops, not as mere exhibitions of desirable objects, but as business ventures, many mere sinking ships, some promising a profitable voyage—this new world bewildered her.
She—as Gerald—had already forgotten about that bill, over which she—as Mollie—was still crying at home. Gerald was “talking business” with this man, “talking politics” with that, and now sympathizing with the carefully withheld troubles of a neighbor.
Mollie had always sympathized with the neighbor’s wife before.
She began to struggle violently with this large dominant masculine consciousness. She remembered with sudden clearness things she had read, lectures she had heard, and resented with increasing intensity this serene masculine preoccupation with the male point of view.
Mr. Miles, the little fussy man who lived on the other side of the street, was talking now. He had a large complacent wife; Mollie had never liked her much, but had always thought him rather nice—he was so punctilious in small courtesies.
And here he was talking to Gerald—such talk!
“Had to come in here,” he said. “Gave my seat to a dame who was bound to have it. There’s nothing they won’t get when they make up their minds to it—eh?”
“No fear!” said the big man in the next seat. “They haven’t much mind to make up, you know—and if they do, they’ll change it.”
“The real danger,” began the Rev. Alfred Smythe, the new Episcopal clergyman, a thin, nervous, tall man with a face several centuries behind the times, “is that they will overstep the limits of their God-appointed sphere.”
“Their natural limits ought to hold ’em, I think,” said cheerful Dr. Jones. “You can’t get around physiology, I tell you.”
“I’ve never seen any limits, myself, not to what they want, anyhow,” said Mr. Miles. “Merely a rich husband and a fine house and no end of bonnets and dresses, and the latest thing in motors, and a few diamonds—and so on. Keeps us pretty busy.”
There was a tired gray man across the aisle. He had a very nice wife, always beautifully dressed, and three unmarried daughters, also beautifully dressed—Moll
But he smiled cheerfully.
“Do you good, Miles,” he said. “What else would a man work for? A good woman is about the best thing on earth.”
“And a bad one’s the worst, that’s sure,” responded Miles.
“She’s a pretty weak sister, viewed professionally,” Dr. Jones averred with solemnity, and the Rev. Alfred Smythe added, “She brought evil into the world.”
Gerald Mathewson sat up straight. Something was stirring in him which he did not recognize—yet could not resist.
“Seems to me we all talk like Noah,” he suggested drily. “Or the ancient Hindu scriptures. Women have their limitations, but so do we, God knows. Haven’t we known girls in school and college just as smart as we were?”
“They cannot play our games,” coldly replied the clergyman.
Gerald measured his meager proportions with a practiced eye.
“I never was particularly good at football myself,” he modestly admitted, “but I’ve known women who could outlast a man in all-round endurance. Besides—life isn’t spent in athletics!”
This was sadly true. They all looked down the aisle where a heavy ill-dressed man with a bad complexion sat alone. He had held the top of the columns once, with headlines and photographs. Now he earned less than any of them.
“It’s time we woke up,” pursued Gerald, still inwardly urged to unfamiliar speech. “Women are pretty much people, seems to me. I know they dress like fools—but who’s to blame for that? We invent all those idiotic hats of theirs, and design their crazy fashions, and, what’s more, if a woman is courageous enough to wear commonsense clothes—and shoes—which of us wants to dance with her?
“Yes, we blame them for grafting on us, but are we willing to let our wives work? We are not. It hurts our pride, that’s all. We are always criticizing them for making mercenary marriages, but what do we call a girl who marries a chump with no money? Just a poor fool, that’s all. And they know it.
“As for Mother Eve—I wasn’t there and can’t deny the story, but I will say this. If she brought evil into the world, we men have had the lion’s share of keeping it going ever since—how about that?”
They drew into the city, and all day long in his business, Gerald was vaguely conscious of new views, strange feelings, and the submerged Mollie learned and learned.
IN HER soft-carpeted, thick-curtained, richly furnished chamber, Mrs. Marroner lay sobbing on the wide, soft bed.
She sobbed bitterly, chokingly, despairingly; her shoulders heaved and shook convulsively; her hands were tight-clenched. She had forgotten her elaborate dress, the more elaborate bedcover; forgotten her dignity, her self-control, her pride. In her mind was an overwhelming, unbelievable horror, an immeasurable loss, a turbulent, struggling mass of emotion.
In her reserved, superior, Boston-bred life, she had never dreamed that it would be possible for her to feel so many things at once, and with such trampling intensity.
She tried to cool her feelings into thoughts; to stiffen them into words; to control herself—and could not. It brought vaguely to her mind an awful moment in the breakers at York Beach, one summer in girlhood when she had been swimming under water and could not find the top.
In her uncarpeted, thin-curtained, poorly furnished chamber on the top floor, Gerta Petersen lay sobbing on the narrow, hard bed.
She was of larger frame than her mistress, grandly built and strong; but all her proud young womanhood was prostrate now, convulsed with agony, dissolved in tears. She did not try to control herself. She wept for two.
If Mrs. Marroner suffered more from the wreck and ruin of a longer love—perhaps a deeper one; if her tastes were finer, her ideals loftier; if she bore the pangs of bitter jealousy and outraged pride, Gerta had personal shame to meet, a hopeless future, and a looming present which filled her with unreasoning terror.
She had come like a meek young goddess into that perfectly ordered house, strong, beautiful, full of goodwill and eager obedience, but ignorant and childish—a girl of eighteen.
Mr. Marroner had frankly admired her, and so had his wife. They discussed her visible perfections and as visible limitations with that perfect confidence which they had so long enjoyed. Mrs. Marroner was not a jealous woman. She had never been jealous in her life—till now.
Gerta had stayed and learned their ways. They had both been fond of her. Even the cook was fond of her. She was what is called “willing,” was unusually teachable and plastic; and Mrs. Marroner, with her early habits of giving instruction, tried to educate her somewhat.
“I never saw anyone so docile,” Mrs. Marroner had often commented. “It is perfection in a servant, but almost a defect in character. She is so helpless and confiding.”
She was precisely that: a tall, rosy-cheeked baby; rich womanhood without, helpless infancy within. Her braided wealth of dead-gold hair, her grave blue eyes, her mighty shoulders and long, firmly moulded limbs seemed those of a primal earth spirit; but she was only an ignorant child, with a child’s weakness.
When Mr. Marroner had to go abroad for his firm, unwillingly, hating to leave his wife, he had told her he felt quite safe to leave her in Gerta’s hands—she would take care of her.
“Be good to your mistress, Gerta,” he told the girl that last morning at breakfast. “I leave her to you to take care of. I shall be back in a month at latest.”
Then he turned, smiling, to his wife. “And you must take care of Gerta, too,” he said. “I expect you’ll have her ready for college when I get back.”
This was seven months ago. Business had delayed him from week to week, from month to month. He wrote to his wife, long, loving, frequent letters, deeply regretting the delay, explaining how necessary, how profitable it was, congratulating her on the wide resources she had, her well-filled, well-balanced mind, her many interests.
“If I should be eliminated from your scheme of things, by any of those ‘acts of God’ mentioned on the tickets, I do not feel that you would be an utter wreck,” he said. “That is very comforting to me. Your life is so rich and wide that no one loss, even a great one, would wholly cripple you. But nothing of the sort is likely to happen, and I shall be home again in three weeks—if this thing gets settled. And you will be looking so lovely, with that eager light in your eyes and the changing flush I know so well—and love so well! My dear wife! We shall have to have a new honeymoon—other moons come every month, why shouldn’t the mellifluous kind?”
He often asked after “little Gerta,” sometimes enclosed a picture postcard to her, joked his wife about her laborious efforts to educate “the child,” was so loving and merry and wise—
All this was racing through Mrs. Marroner’s mind as she lay there with the broad, hemstitched border of fine linen sheeting crushed and twisted in one hand, and the other holding a sodden handkerchief.
She had tried to teach Gerta, and had grown to love the patient, sweet-natured child, in spite of her dullness. At work with her hands, she was clever, if not quick, and could keep small accounts from week to week. But to the woman who held a Ph.D., who had been on the faculty of a college, it was like baby-tending.
Perhaps having no babies of her own made her love the big child the more, though the years between them were but fifteen.
To the girl she seemed quite old, of course; and her young heart was full of grateful affection for the patient care which made her feel so much at home in this new land.
And then she had noticed a shadow on the girl’s bright face. She looked nervous, anxious, worried. When the bell rang, she seemed startled, and would rush hurriedly to the door. Her peals of frank laughter no longer rose from the area gate as she stood talking with the always admiring tradesmen.
Mrs. Marroner had labored long to teach her more reserve with men, and flattered herself that her words were at last effec
For a long time she refused to believe it, waiting. Then she had to believe it, but schooled herself to patience and understanding. “The poor child,” she said. “She is here without a mother—she is so foolish and yielding—I must not be too stern with her.” And she tried to win the girl’s confidence with wise, kind words.
But Gerta had literally thrown herself at her feet and begged her with streaming tears not to turn her away. She would admit nothing, explain nothing, but frantically promised to work for Mrs. Marroner as long as she lived—if only she would keep her.
Revolving the problem carefully in her mind, Mrs. Marroner thought she would keep her, at least for the present. She tried to repress her sense of ingratitude in one she had so sincerely tried to help, and the cold, contemptuous anger she had always felt for such weakness.
“The thing to do now,” she said to herself, “is to see her through this safely. The child’s life should not be hurt any more than is unavoidable. I will ask Dr. Bleet about it—what a comfort a woman doctor is! I’ll stand by the poor, foolish thing till it’s over, and then get her back to Sweden somehow with her baby. How they do come where they are not wanted—and don’t come where they are wanted!” And Mrs. Marroner, sitting alone in the quiet, spacious beauty of the house, almost envied Gerta.
Then came the deluge.
She had sent the girl out for needed air toward dark. The late mail came; she took it in herself. One letter for her—her husband’s letter. She knew the postmark, the stamp, the kind of typewriting. She impulsively kissed it in the dim hall. No one would suspect Mrs. Marroner of kissing her husband’s letters—but she did, often.
She looked over the others. One was for Gerta, and not from Sweden. It looked precisely like her own. This struck her as a little odd, but Mr. Marroner had several times sent messages and cards to the girl. She laid the letter on the hall table and took hers to her room.
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman / History & Fiction / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes