Short Story #281: The Giant Wistaria by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Title:  The Giant Wistaria

Author:  Charlotte Perkins Gilman


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The story begins in the past.  A woman begs for her child and she is told to be quiet.  It's clear the people around her do not want her with her child or to speak of her child.  The parents discuss the young woman and her baby, upset and wishing that the boat they had taken should have sunk to spare them the shame.  They plan to leave soon after leaving the child with some town and then have the daughter marry a willing cousin.  The mother acknowledges that he is a rough fellow but that there is nothing else they can do.  Unbeknownst to them, the daughter was listening.  

Many years later, a group of couples encounter an abandoned house with elation and hoping they can rent it.  They find a woman on the premises who says she isn't sure if it can be rented.  The owners are in Europe and do business through a lawyer.  They begin to explore the house and find it is covered with flowers and branches.  In particular, they find a giant wisteria vine that weaves through the front of the house.  They note the ginormous size and presence of the vine.  They wonder about the place and if it is haunted but cannot get any real answers.  The next day while breakfasting, they listen as works begin to clean up the front porch which is in part ruined by the giant wisteria.  At breakfast, they all reveal they had either dreams or feelings about ghosts that night.  They piece together the different elements of their dreams to direct them to the cellar.  They decide to go down to the cellar to further inspect it and see what is down there.  In the cellar, they locate the well, which is where one of them believed the ghost had disappeared to.  They pull up the bucket to find the corpse of a newborn baby.  Just after this, the workmen who had been removing parts of the wisteria from the house, broke through the porch and into the basement, shining a light.  This light shown on the bones of a woman strangled up by the roots. 


The more I read of Gilman, the more I want to read from her.  She has some fascinating short stories that flesh out more about her and her views than just The Yellow Wall-Paper.  That is, I see more facets of her views and in some ways, more damning critiques of society than what appears in The Yellow Wall-Paper.  I think that short story captures many of it in small flashes, but these other stories speak more directly to singular issues.  I'm also curious with the choice of Wistaria in this story.  Was the name chosen because of it's similar structure to the word hysterical and thus the connection to female identity?

Short Story #281 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read: 9/15/2014  
Source:  You can read the full text of this short story on this website.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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