Book Review: Approaches to Teaching Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Herland (2003)

In addition to this MLA Approaches volume, check out Brianne Jaquette’s “The Yellow-Wallpaper,” Close Reading, and the Introductory Literature Classroom.

MLA Gilman

Edited by Denise D Knight and Cynthia J Davis

Here are some of the highlights from this volume in the MLA Approaches to Teaching series. Check out the book for the full details of these varied classroom activities.

Note: I have chosen the essays that have very concrete activities, as opposed to general approaches.

Issues in Teaching Gilman’s Works

The essays in this section suggest some different textual pairings and theoretical approaches to teaching Gilman. The pairings range from cross-genre comparisons of Gilman’s fiction with her own poems or autobiographical writings to situating Gilman’s Herland with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Beyond the standard feminist approach taken to Gilman’s work, the contributors to this section also recommend a blend of cultural studies and close-reading—Gary Totten offers several discussion questions to support this approach (see page 30)—and the use of a Marxist lens.

A useful activity is described by Denise D. Knight. Following her class discussion of “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” she has her students explore the concept of fictional autobiography by analyzing the similarities between “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and “Through This,” including elements of style, imagery, symbolism, and narrative techniques (24). This activity complements the autobiographical approach she takes when teaching Gilman.

Teaching “The Yellow Wall-Paper”

While this section has different theoretical positionings for “The Yellow Wall-Paper”—from Freud to the French Feminists—here are the essays with clearly outlines activities.

What to do when students make claims that are difficult to support with the text? Michelle Massé presents a multi-step class activity that engages every single student where each read a passage and provide specific commentary to it in “Finding Patterns in the Text: Close Reading ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper.’”

What are the possibilities for supplemental outside resources? In “The Use of Audiovisual Material as an Aid in Teaching ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper,’” Guiyou Huang provides many ways of incorporating cultural materials into the class discussion from the several film adaptations of the work to pictures and drawings of insane asylums and/or women’s fashion to 19th Century wallpaper designs.

How can you make the text come to life with students in different roles? Carol Farley Kessler and Priscilla Ferguson Clement provide a step-by-step setup of a classroom activity they developed while team teaching the text in “Using Role-Playing in Teaching ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper.’” The majority of the students take on the role of a medical board who interview John and Jane in an attempt to assess the situation between husband/doctor and wife/patient. There is some very specific prep work that goes into making this a successful activity.

Teaching Herland

The essays in this section are much more topically focused and reflect on different directions to lead class discussion. They do not offer specific activities or assignments.

Teaching Gilman in Course Contexts

This final section considers how Gilman is taught in different courses: Introduction to literature, Women’s and Gender Studies classes, Autobiography, etc.

What activities do you use when teaching Gilman?


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