The Red Wall-paper: Reservation Policy, The Dawes Act, and Gilman's Literature of Argument

Becca Gercken


This essay offers a reading of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's “The Yellow Wallpaper” as "literature of argument" addressing reservation policy and the Dawes Act.  Gilman’s short story, which follows the deterioration of its nameless narrator as she descends into madness while undergoing the “rest cure,” perhaps as a result of post-partum depression, has been interpreted both as a ghost story and a feminist story.  I suggest that it is time we consider other sources of inspiration for Gilman’s masterpiece of realism and the literature of argument.  “The Yellow Wallpaper” was published more than a decade into the reservation period and several years after the passage of the Dawes Act.  A close reading of Gilman’s story reveals a harsh critique of reservation policy and the Dawes Act as well as references to America’s federal Indian policy in broad strokes, including the Marshall Trilogy and The Indian Removal Act.  The essay includes a post script that models Gilman’s “Why I Write the Yellow Wall-paper”; in “Why I Wrote the Red Wall-paper,” I provide historical and critical context for the red reading of this American classic.


Native American; Literary Realism; Red Readings, Federal Indian Policy

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