2: Short story excerpts, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” 1892, and Orly Castel-Bloom’s “Ummi Fi Shurl,” 1993.
Separated by one hundred years and several continents, as well as language and culture, these stories would seem to have little to do with each other. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic feminist tale tells the story of a young mother confined by her husband to an estate for the “rest cure,” a Victorian treatment for a variety of what we now know to be serious mental illnesses, including the post-partum depression from which the narrator appears to suffer. Forced to suspend her own creative work and not venture outside the confines of home and garden, the unnamed narrator envisions a woman trapped inside the hideous yellow wallpaper in her bedroom. By the end of the story, her confinement has driven her mad.
Although Orly Castel-Bloom’s story takes place in contemporary urban Israel, the maladies suffered by the narrators seem nearly identical. Apparently cut off from human contact, largely confined to the claustrophobic space of her small apartment, the unnamed narrator here appears to hallucinate a woman as well, this time a mother figure. Like Gilman’s, Castel-Bloom’s narrator both identifies strongly with the woman and is alienated from her. She, too, suffers from paranoia and anxiety, and possibly depression. They are both writers who are unable to write. The parallel is so close that Castel-Bloom's story may even consciously allude to Gilman’s.
Suggested Activity: Ask students to make a list of similarities between these two passages and the characters who narrate them, both in terms of their situations and in terms of the language they use. At the same time, ask them to make a list of differences in their situations and the things they describe. While keeping in mind the very different contexts in which these stories were written, ask students to think about why so many similarities exist between them. Do they both suggest something permanent or universal about the human condition? What do they say about gender and gender norms, and how they have changed or remained the same? Similarly, think about the differences in their situations, and what they might indicate about the different contexts of the stories. What is it that each woman finds depressing or anxiety-producing? What is the treatment, if there is one, for their conditions, and who controls the treatment? How great are the differences between them?
Sources: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper (New York: The Feminist Press, 1973), 12, 14.
Orly Castel-Bloom, “Ummi Fi Shurl,” trans. Dalya Bilu, in Ribcage: Israeli Women’s Fiction, eds. Carol Diament and Lily Rattok (Hadassah, 1994), 259-262.
Editor's note: We have not been able to make contact with the rights holder for Dalya Bilu's translation. Any information about the current copyright holder for this material would be welcome and appreciated.