Some teachers from my school formed a virtual book club for the summer and we met last night to discuss Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. If you’re into gothic literature, you will love this one. It’s fresh but draws from so many classic sources like Jane Eyre, a few Poe stories, and the classic short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

During our chat, we said the words “the yellow wallpaper” at least five times. I remembered reading it as a freshman in college. I was in a class with mostly sophomores, and when my professor asked what we thought of the story at the beginning of class, a man two rows over in a backward baseball cap and khaki shorts laughed and said it was hilarious. Others nodded in agreement, some people chimed in with a few “yeah, so funny” and eventually it felt like the whole room was saying this was comical.

I read the story again last night and here’s a quick re-cap: The narrator and her physician husband John are staying in a vacation house for a few months. John does not let her have any mental stimulation because she suffers from “hysteria” so she hides her journal. In reality, she suffers from postpartum depression. She writes about the yellow wallpaper in the room she’s stuck in, obsessing over it, eventually convincing herself she sees a woman creeping around in the paper behind the main pattern that resembles bars on a cage. (We get the symbolism, right?) By the end, she has been so ill-cared for and abandoned that she sees herself as the woman in the wallpaper. Her husband faints when he sees her creeping around as the imagined woman.


After reading that for homework, it seemed like a room full of people thought that was…funny? That feeling crept up. You know the one. It happens when you think you are the only one in the room with a dissenting opinion, like you are the one on the outs, the one that will be side-eyed. You feel it in your chest, your pulse picks up, and you suddenly become very aware of your legs’ abilities because you want to bolt.  

Then my professor said something like, “Anyone else have thoughts?”

I raised my hand and said, “Wait – this was heartbreaking. This woman has a mental illness and no one is helping. How is this funny?” 

My professor was seated on the top of an old school desk, slapped his knee in excitement, and said, “Ah, I was waiting for that!”

From there, the lecture continued and we discussed the symbolism and imagery and how the short story paved the way for more feminist powerhouses to come and changed the game of gothic literature. 

But for those few moments when so many people thought it was funny, I questioned myself. I doubted if my reaction was valid. Thoughts like, Did I read the right story? Did I mix up assignments? Maybe I didn’t finish it? all flooded in. Just as the narrator was gas-lit by the professionals around her, I was influenced by my older classmates into thinking I had done something wrong. 

I recounted this to my wife and said, “It’s as if we see ourselves reflected back in our environment.”

For instance, right now we live in mostly isolation and I begin to associate myself with the undone things: dishes in the sink, big piles of dirty laundry, the Netflix screen asking if we’re still watching. They’ve started to take on meaning and reflect back the parts of me that I don’t like. 

Photo by Daria Shevtsova

My wife’s reaction was very different and she said, “I see myself less. The less I go out, the more I step away from the mirror.”

We exist as this dichotomy fighting against losing ourselves and seeing the unsavory. 

But we both have that feeling – the one where your legs are so awake ready to run, and you’ve questioned how it is you got here. The one that makes you think you are all alone.

What if that feeling is being misunderstood, just like the narrator in the story? What if that feeling is not to gaslight you into thinking you’re alone, but remind you that you are fully and completely alive. The restlessness is a readying. The gearing up is a grounding. The need to bolt is a need to breathe. 

2 thoughts on “MIRROR IMAGE

  1. I was recently thinking about that book as I reflected on my undergrad college experience and this current isolation. I was wondering why I never hear anyone talking about it. What you shared about feeling that feeling really resonated with me. I often feel it when someone has offended me or when I’m afraid to speak up. I love that you did it anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

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