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

  • Becca Gercken University of Minnesota Morris
Keywords: Native American, Literary Realism, Red Readings, Federal Indian Policy


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.

Author Biography

Becca Gercken, University of Minnesota Morris

BECCA GERCKEN is an Associate Professor of English and American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota, Morris. She has published in the areas of identity and representation, masculinities, and pedagogy. Her most recent work appears in Leslie Marmon Silko: Ceremony, Almanac of the Dead, Gardens in the Dunes and Gambling on Authenticity: Gaming, the Noble Savage, and the Not-So-New Indian

How to Cite
GerckenB. (2018). The Red Wall-paper: Reservation Policy, The Dawes Act, and Gilman’s Literature of Argument. Transmotion, 4(1), 1-10.