April is a yellow month for me — a month of extremes. I’ve had Aprils full of joy and Aprils I wouldn’t relive for all the tea on earth. Although it’s only one color from the original Crayola 8-pack, yellow does a lot of heavy lifting. It does even more calisthenics in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wall-Paper, now available as a graphic novel illustrated by Sara Barkat.
The protagonist is an unnamed woman who is made to rest for a summer in a room with yellow wallpaper. She tells us it’s not a beautiful yellow, “like buttercups, but a strange yellow”:
The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.”
This short story, written in 1892, is short on plot but long on psychological horror. The narrator goes from despising the paper to wondering about the paper to becoming obsessed with it. In Sara Barkat’s illustrations, the woman transforms from a proper Victorian lady to a wild woman, almost fairy-like.
And when that shift occurs, I wasn’t sure whether to call the police or do a celebratory handspring. Because the illustrations grow more and more lovely as the woman becomes more and more … well, whatever it is she becomes. Unstable? Unstoppable? Fearsome or fabulous? Or all of the above?
When I teach poetry I remind people that there is no secret code to crack. So also with this story. There isn’t one right answer — or rather, there are as many answers as there are shades of yellow, as many meanings as there are women to make meaning in the interplay of text and words.
Join us for a three-week book club in April, the yellowest of months. We will not only discuss the story but also Barkat’s illustrations, which both show and suggest. And if you are familiar with classic art, you may discover some homages hidden in the pages.
Here’s a schedule for reading and discussing:
Week 1 (April 8): Sections I-II, pages 1-31
Week 2 (April 15): Sections III-VI, pages 32-71
Week 3 (April 22): Sections VII-XII, pages 72-109
Make Plans for Other Upcoming Spring Book Clubs at Tweetspeak
Our Year of Wisdom journey at Tweetspeak continues throughout this Spring, with its hard and complicated new challenges. As always, our broad range of book clubs will help guide us in that journey from a variety of vantage points. Join us in May as Callie Feyen leads us in a discussion of Nicole Gulotta’s Wild Words, a timely look at your writing practice in which, through “personal stories and practical lessons you’ll learn how to enter a new relationship with your creativity, one that honors where you’ve been, where you’re headed, and where you are today.”
And in June, we’ll read and discuss Irish poet’s John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, a collection which promises to guide us as we “transition from a known, familiar world into a new, unmapped territory.”
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“Sara’s stunning, heartbreaking, and relevant illustrations help to tell a difficult, haunting story. I will return to the story, as I do with all those stories I love, again and again.”
—Callie Feyen, teacher