Darren Aronofsky said it, not me. But I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't think it mattered.
Disclaimer: this is a personal interpretation of mother!, Darren Aronofsky's latest film—a piece of cinema very much open to interpretation. While takeaways from the film differ based on subjective experience, I have drawn from the two deepest wells of my knowledge to dissect it: cinema analysis and Judeo-Christian tradition. So take my words with a number of grains of salt, perhaps. Then, read other interpretations. What is allegory without discussion and disagreement?
Also, so many spoilers. Absolutely do not read this without first seeing the movie. Also also, this is long. Feel free to read it in pieces. I hope you're compelled to see it through, lest the mysteries of mother! plague your nightmares for eternity.
Let's get this out of the way: the narrative of mother! is a Biblical allegory; an extended metaphor that uses the story of the Bible to build its world and relay its messages. Many events and characters are metaphors that link directly to events and characters in the Bible. Of course, Aronofsky (a nonreligious artist with a lot to say about religion) does not simply rehash the Bible in the interest of a modern update. Much of the film takes place after the Biblical story, in a world that's been inexorably altered by it—which is the point (or a point).
First, I will tackle the parts of the film that are reflections of stories in the Bible and beyond: otherwise known as the "this means this" and "this represents this" section. That's the easier part. Subsequently, I will dig into what it all means.
From Eden to Apocalypse
After we're treated to an opening of Rachel Weisz's face on fire, we see Javier Bardem place a crystallized object on a pedestal, prompting a house and surrounding greenery to rise from the ashes. This is the creation of the world: Javier Bardem is God (credited as "Him"), and the idyllic paradise of the house is Eden. We don't see Eden generated from nothingness, as per the typical evangelical read of Genesis—but I'll get to that later.
Then, Jennifer Lawrence wakes up in the house. She is "Mother", and she is also God.
Hey, controversial territory already! A common read of the two central characters is that they are separate as God and Mother Earth—hence the title. Well, mother! never makes us worry about the three-in-one Trinity dynamic, so perhaps this is Aronofsky's way of making up for it.
Jokes aside, I strongly believe that Him and Mother are two sides of the same God coin. Aronofsky's post-release statements and the film itself both support this theory. It was the impression I had upon leaving the theater, so I scoured the internet soon after to see if other critics agreed: Alissa Wilkinson of Vox did. Like me, she is a film journalist with a background in Christian studies, so my confidence in the double-sided God interpretation increased. It later went through the roof when Aronofsky himself cited one of Alissa's articles as evidence that she "gets the movie".
So Aronofsky has given a vocal vote of confidence, but he already gave his cinematic one. Early on, we're given evidence that Mother has creative autonomy in crafting Eden: dialogue tells us that she "breathed life into every room" (a Biblical creation phrase ascribed to God), we see her painting and fixing different areas, and she has a special connection to the creation. The house has a literal heart that she can sense; the world is a living thing that the Creator feels. Definitionally, Mother Earth is the personification of this connection, given the name Gaia. There's no arguing that Mother isn't Mother Earth. It's her creative autonomy that differentiates her as something more than a Gaia—she's a Sophia too.
Quick lesson/dreadfully broad oversimplification: Gnosticism is an offshoot of Christianity that was quickly declared heretical by the latter. Gnosticism sprung from early Christianity during its proliferation and developed into somewhat of a spirit-obsessed spinoff. Though Gnosticism and early Christianity shared origins in Jewish tradition, Gnostics went on to reject material things as evil, going to great lengths to define what constitutes the spiritual realm. The Judeo-Christian God gets divided up into spiritual beings, all part of God but also distinct 'emanations' of God.
One of these is Sophia. She embodies the feminine aspects of God and is known as both Wisdom and the spouse of the Lord. God the Mother. Her love for and desire to understand the mind of the Father ends up resulting in the creation of the material world.
Sound familiar? It should. And not to get ahead of ourselves, but it should also be reminiscent of mother!'s ending—providing one possible reason why Aronofsky chose to replace creation with recreation. He injected bits of Gnostic mythology into the Biblical story with his previous film Noah, so it's no stretch to assume that he may be twisting the two together again with mother!. Him also refers to Mother as "my goddess" twice, so there's a touch of substantial evidence to tide you over.
Careening back to Eden now: so we have Mother (an amalgam of Mother Earth and God the Mother) and Him (God the Father) in the house of Eden, detailing their perfect world and enjoying their relationship with one another. Mother tends to her creation; Him attempts to overcome his writer's block. He's a poet looking for inspiration. Then it knocks on the door.
Once one realizes the allegorical framework of mother! is the Bible, the "this represents this" portion of decoding the movie is pretty clear-cut. It's not exactly subtle in that realm, so we'll skim our way to the end of the world.
The original visitor—Ed Harris' doctor—is Adam: the first human in the house. Him loves Adam and Adam admires Him straightaway, but Mother isn't too keen on letting a stranger into Eden. This is partly because Adam comes bearing sin: fire, cigarettes, a lighter. Adam has tainted the purity of Eden by his own volition. Keep in mind: this is a gender reversal of Genesis, in which a woman makes the first choice to allow sin into the world. Later, Adam gets sick (maybe because all of those sinarettes) and spends time coughing over the toilet. Him is quick to hide Adam's wound from Mother's inquisitive gaze, but we briefly get a flash of a hole near Adam's ribs. Biblically speaking, it's time for woman to enter the picture.
And so she does the next day as a menacing Michelle Pfeiffer; as an Eve. Her defining characteristic is a toxic obsession with procreation and literal motherhood, one that visibly upsets Mother. This is another significant piece of the puzzle to remember. Aronofsky lays the thematic seeds of an overall message with the Adam and Eve characters.
At one point during Adam and Eve's stay—which continues to worry Mother and delight Him—Mother suspiciously investigates the guest bathroom. She intends to clean the space, but encounters a strange sight when she goes to plunge the toilet: some sort of writhing organ clogging the drain. It hisses, shrivels up, and disappears down the pipes. This is merely a guess, but this could be a representation of Adam and Eve trying to hide their sin: did they try to flush a smoker's lung, the physical degradation of the human body fraught by sin/smoke? Whatever it was, it leads into a (slightly) more typical telling of the Fall.
Adam and Eve break into the one room in Eden that they were explicitly told not to enter: Him's study, the source of his poetry and wisdom, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Some unseen scuffle (note that Aronofsky intentionally does not depict Eve commencing the transgression) breaks Him's prized possession: the crystallized object; the forbidden fruit. mother!'s ending reveals that the forbidden fruit serves another purpose, but that's best saved for the analysis section. Furious and heartbroken, Him knocks the doorknob off of his study door and bars it up so that Adam and Eve cannot enter again, just as Cherubim blocked them from the garden in Genesis. The house's beating heart shrivels as Creation is choked by sin. Then Adam and Eve have voyeuristic sex in the living room because mankind just won't quit, man.
The Old Testament (abridged)
For some reason, sex leads to children. The guests' sparring sons burst into the house, arguing about inheritance and their parents loving one son more than the other. The spurned son beats the obedient son to death with the study's doorknob (additional diminishment of a previously open connection to God) and runs off into "the wilderness". Oh hey, it's Cain and Abel (portrayed by actual brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson). An interesting split from the Biblical story occurs while they're still alive: Cain empathizes with Mother's plight, but Abel grossly sexualizes her. It seems that the paragon of religious obedience tends to misogyny, as opposed to the rebel.
The murder leaves a bloodstain in the wood floor, which appears to expand and contract throughout the film depending on how sinful a state the world has fallen into. It's an obvious but effective tying together of sin and death. Mother covers it with a white carpet, which periodically doesn't work: the unavoidable tainting of purity in a sinful world, as exemplified further by blood spreading from the carpet, through concrete, and into a lightbulb.
Adam and Eve plan a funeral and bring more people into the world to mourn Abel. Him delivers a eulogy that gives Abel's family hope in an afterlife, paving the way for a theology that we see take hold later. Mother—who already thought Adam and Eve were overstaying their welcome—panics as new guests treat her Creation carelessly, but hosts them anyway out of her kind Nature. The mourners dress in formal attire, but pairs of guests dressing more casually (the sons and daughters of Cain?) arrive later and flagrantly mistreat the house. Male mourners make threatening sexual advances on Mother and others feel they deserve to repaint her walls. The house's heart shrinks again: the struggle of God's gift to mankind coincides with chauvinism and misplaced entitlement.
Mother, fulfilling her Old Testament God duties, warns her people multiple times to stop sitting on the sink counter (the sink isn't braced!) Preferring to keep living in sin, they bounce on it in rebellion, prompting a deluge of water from broken pipes: the Flood. Everyone leaves—humanity is wiped out. Aronofsky already did Noah.
The New Testament (and beyond)
Peace, as it tends to be, is brief. Mother and Him argue over the invitation of guests and destruction of their home, which evolves into Mother's accusation that Him is ignoring her. Then the two sides of God have rough sex, because what other kind of sex would the two sides of God have? I mean, if you're all-powerful and all-pleasurable, why not put both to good use?
Anyway, better get back to this before I'm struck dead. Mother wakes up with the knowledge that she's pregnant because divine symbols of allegory require no pregnancy tests, and Him is overjoyed. In his elated phase, he finally manages to write his poem.
The scene in which Him presents the poem to Mother is of the utmost importance, if one is to understand Aronofsky's position on a certain religious text with some nuance. According to Him, two key things enabled the poem to flow out of him: witnessing the anguish of Adam and Eve losing Abel, and the joy he felt in creating new life with his wife. A story of death and a redemptive event leading to new life—the poem is the Bible, though not written by humans and inspired by God, but written by God and inspired by humanity. This is a direct reversal of the doctrine of Biblical inspiration, which teaches that the Bible is an infallible collection of texts because its authors were divinely led to write what they did. Such a reversal lays the groundwork for another of mother!'s overarching arguments. Note here that the poem brings Mother to tears: something about the Bible is intrinsically beautiful in its purest, poetic form.
Ok. At this point, mother! explodes. It's a spiral of meaning and narrative, spinning towards an inevitable apocalypse of profundity to coincide with its catastrophic ending. The last act is a rush of madness, so bear with me as I break it down.
Mother prepares to settle down for a tranquil life with her husband and eventual infant, but Him's poem sells like the Bible does. Fans of the poem gather outside to hear Him speak—disciples, religious followers—and display dedication to his words. A misinformed dedication, perhaps: the film's sound design emphasizes crucial lines, such as one of Him's followers remarking, "I feel like it was written... for me."
If you grew up in religious circles, you might know the feeling, or at least have seen others express it. Him's poem was not written for that follower—it was an expression of Him's lived experience and a love letter to Mother, if anyone—but that hasn't stopped followers from dedicating themselves to the poem as if it was a personal handbook for their own lives. Earlier in the film, Adam remarks that Him's previous poetry changed his life irrevocably, so we've had hints that this is how Him's fans interpret the text.
Fans line up inside the house to use the bathroom. That's how they see the Creation gifted to them: a glorified toilet. They're so slavishly dedicated to a misunderstood Bible that they're treating the environment like waste. Others have misinterpreted the poem in such a way that they believe everything in the house is their personal property, and they abscond with Creation's offerings. The bloodstain on the wood floor has reappeared despite new paneling, and the fascinated visitors describe it as "beautiful": they're in love with their own sin.
Cue full-scale insanity.
The above painting is Pablo Picasso's anti-war piece, Guernica. Violence, chaos, and the snuffing out of life unfold in one room; in one instant. I recently saw it in person at the Reina Sofía in Madrid, but couldn't look for long because I felt the pain of the world swing into me like a blunt weapon. That's how I felt watching the final act of mother!, albeit with the added sharpness of cinema. I'd venture to guess there's no way Guernica didn't inspire Aronofsky.
Him's publicist (Kristen Wiig? Kristen Wiig!?) arrives to institutionalize the proceedings and set organized religion into motion—after all, she's listed in the credits as 'herald'. Her and Him's gospel doesn't go well. Violence, chaos, and the snuffing out of life unfold in one house; in one sequence. Mother stumbles scared through it all: rituals idolize the poem's original text, police brutalize and protest chants respond, sexual harassment transpires—
"Where have you been hiding?" the herald asks Mother; the Church asks God the Mother.
—a hedonistic rave pulses, military forces gun people down, and the herald executes victims point blank. Him, enjoying his role at the center of all this, vocally delights in how readers of the Bible have cultivated their own "meanings and interpretations." At one point, he smears mud on the foreheads of his followers à la Ash Wednesday, demonstrating this version of God's acceptance of this version of religion.
Mother goes into labor at the worst time anyone has ever gone into labor, so Him pulls her out of the madness and into the sanctuary of his study. There, Mother gives birth to a beautiful baby Jesus. Some think this adds Mary to the Mother amalgam, ostensibly in the physical act of birthing Jesus. Jesus is the son of God, so it would still make sense if Aronofsky wasn't straying from God the Mother here, but the innocence often ascribed to Mary by the Church fits the metaphorical bill too.
Him, in the interest of furthering his own glory, wants to show Jesus to his followers. The world has quieted down in anticipation, like Jews waiting for their Messiah. Mother wants to take care of her baby: she at least gets a chance to breastfeed and swaddle him to sleep. She can't help from falling asleep though, and when she awakes, Jesus is carried aloft on the hands of his captors. The baby urinates on the crowd (I haven't quite decoded the significance of that—baptism? Living water?) As they escort him away, we're hit with the most heartbreaking depiction of the death of Jesus that I have ever seen in cinema: the baby's neck snaps on a doorway.
In abject horror, Mother runs out to see what's become of her baby. What she finds is an indictment of the supposed barbarity behind the ritual of communion: the dead body of baby Jesus, split open and savaged into a pile of gore and bones, and a congregation quietly feasting on his flesh and blood. If religious audiences got this far without rethinking how others might view their Sunday routine, that ought to kick critical brains into high gear.
Mother is understandably distressed by the way things turned out. The house's heart stops beating. Due to humanity's extreme neglect of both Jesus and Creation, the climate has changed: Mother Nature turns on her house guests. Him has been pleading with her that forgiving humanity is the best option, but for Mother, it's past too late. She stabs and slices at her child's murderers with a shard of glass, but they get the upper hand—specifically by utilizing the former doorknob to Him's study, as if to say there's no possible return to paradise.
The fruition of the environmentalist side of the allegory is unnervingly visceral: the rape of Mother Nature. No longer is the house a stand-in for Creation: humanity goes straight for its personification. Her clothes are torn. She's beat relentlessly. She's sexually assaulted. Select humans seem most wont to violate the Earth after being confronted about their misdeeds. A growl of "kill the cunt!" cues us into the femininity side of the allegory, as I'll explore in the forthcoming analysis section (almost there!)
Mother decides to let the world be overtaken by sin, which involves setting the house alight with one of the film's earliest metaphors: fire. She grabs the lighter that Adam brought into the world, heads to the oil tanks in the cellar that Abel's blood led her to earlier, and lights up the apocalypse. But an unscathed Him and a badly burnt Mother survive and Him's all "hey let's give them another chance" and Mother's like "well I do have some love left" and Him rips out Mother's heart which turns into the crystallized object from the beginning and it all starts over with a new Mother.
I echoed the film's structure previously so that you could relive it as I offered decoded symbols, hopefully helping you extrapolate meaning. Now, it's time for some distilled extrapolation.
Aronofsky's mother! allegory works on three separate but interconnected levels—like the Trinity! But we'll touch on the director's alleged God complex near the end. The three levels begin with criticism of Biblical infallibility, and continue into how this ideology leads to rape of Creation and vilification of femininity. The film uses the first as a springboard to the others, so let's start there.
Criticism of Biblical Infallibility
I used to work in Christian youth ministry and was nearly fired for liking Aronofsky's Noah, so let me assuage some fears: I think there's truth and value in the Bible. That's one bias for you. And recall the weight I gave to the scene in which Him first presents Mother with his poem: Aronofsky appreciates the Bible too, in a way. mother! depicts the Bible as an inherently beautiful text in its original form—a text capturing the pain of the human experience and utilizing the symbol of redemptive love as a reason to give us hope. The poem prompts an authentic emotional response: hope in Nature; evidence of a tangible love connection with God. The story of a people, not yet complete.
From other scenes in mother!, it's evident that Aronofsky is uncomfortable permitting the Bible any authority beyond that. Much of the central allegory functions as a criticism of 'Biblical infallibility', a view that the Bible is wholly without fault—a divinely inspired text incapable of teaching anything wrong or untrue. mother!'s rejection of this notion originates with its reversal of who wrote the Bible and who inspired it, moving the text to a position of cosmic poetry rather than humanly authored story of indisputable truths. I also reject Biblical infallibility, by the way—there's more bias for you.
The film shows us a world in which the majority of its denizens are convinced of Biblical infallibility. They think the Bible was written for them each individually, resulting in a most unfortunate cocktail of religious fervor: the desire to glean "meanings and interpretations" (as Him proudly proclaims) from the text and apply them to life with confidence in their 'infallibility', shunning nuance or the possibility of being wrong. As my post-evangelical Twitter acquaintance Jackson Dame describes the phenomenon: "When you set yourself up as the sole arbiters of truth, you stop seeing your own need to be evangelized by the other." Unwavering belief in the infallibility of a fallible poem gives the house guests conviction in waging war, claiming personal property, and misusing the Earth. Mother's pleas—attempts to evangelize her people into protecting the sanctity of life, sentient and otherwise—fall on deaf ears and made up minds. They're too busy worshipping the original text and repeating the mantra, "his words are yours".
The moment that best exemplifies this dynamic is when the herald of the Church asks God herself where she's been hiding. Could those granting the Bible the most authority be missing a God in plain slight? Even when they catch glimpses of her true heart, not much changes.
While God the Mother functions as Aronofsky's idea of what a legitimate deity would want, God the Father functions as the God construct of an infallible Bible. He's prone to violent outbursts, forgives those who dedicate themselves to him no matter their lifestyle, and has an unhealthy infatuation with amassing followers despite the cost. Him is the ultimate enabler, operating under the veiled promise of an afterlife for his people; believers of an infallible Bible have the dangerous capacity to shape Him. Their cries that Him would not forsake them deafen them to surrounding poverty.
So mother! presents a world where the belief in Biblical infallibility and its resulting God construct run rampant. How would this damage our world?
Rape of Creation
How does it damage our world, I write from a planet ravaged by manmade climate change.
This layer of the allegory is the most blatant—the film wears its environmentalist leanings on its sleeve. As disturbingly emphasized by the literal rape of Mother Nature, mother! condemns those who take the Earth for granted, especially those who are Biblically called to be stewards of the Earth (Genesis 2:15; common sense). God gifts us with an Eden, Adam invites sin and death, and then mankind uses up resources with abandon while caring little for the long-term consequences paid by the house.
The architects of the God construct have given themselves few reasons to fear: they know Him desires to forgive them, and Mother seems generous enough to host them through all sorts of abuse. Well, up until the point that they kill and eat her newborn baby. Aronofsky subverts the death of Jesus—the ultimate redemptive sacrifice in Judeo-Christian tradition—into a last straw of sorts; a sign of defeat rather than victory. By neglecting innocence and Creation to this end, humanity has signed its death warrant, and things aren't going to be all right. The destruction of the environment has drastic consequences. Sure, there's a New Earth, but we all have to die for it to happen. Nobody escapes to eternity. mother! solidifies the environmental point of no return as a dead end for mankind in every sense.
Perhaps, I conjecture, it also argues that unambiguous belief in Biblical infallibility sets that into motion. It's not a logical leap to find self-contradiction in an inerrant Bible: can its message of environmentalism square with man being given "dominion over the Earth"? I personally think so, but as someone who was once asked to preach a sermon on the latter and disobediently spoke on the former (the beginning of the end of my days in ministry), I can also see the discrepancies in full synthesis. In the interest of relevancy: the pastor who assigned me the sermon is far more convinced of Biblical infallibility than I.
The discrepancy that concerns Aronofsky is an implicit one: the Bible uses an element of Nature as a conduit to symbolize the Fall. Maybe that's a part of why the Gnostics went on to brand all material things as evil. If religious followers accept Biblical infallibility without nuance, that could instill in them a latent antagonism towards Nature. In defiant response, mother! takes the forbidden fruit and reframes it as Mother Nature's heart, rather than a tempting pathway to sin that God just so happened to place in Eden. Adam brings cigarettes from an outside source on his own accord. The fruit; the heart of Creation—it's pure through and through.
And keep in mind: Mother's nature is twofold.
Vilification of Femininity
The fruit is the heart of God the Mother. Chronologically, that revelation starts and finishes mother!'s indictment of how Christianity treats the feminine.
Like Aronofsky's suggestion that the idea of the forbidden fruit could breed negativity towards Nature, there's a fear that the belief in a masculine God leads to domination of femininity. Given the history of the oppression of women, you'd be hard-pressed to argue that religion doesn't play a primary role—mother! spells out that history in visual horror.
The ways in which the lens and costume design accentuate Mother's breasts parallel the development of this layer of the allegory. During the first act, the outline of her breasts is clearly visible through her shirt, but they're framed in a naturalistic manner: a non-sexualized, fundamental part of the physical feminine. When Mother meets Eve? She feels the need to cover up.
In a similar fashion to Him being the God construct of an infallible Bible, Eve is a picture of the infallible Bible's ideal woman. Her obsession with fertility, submission to her husband, and insistence that Mother fulfill her childbearing role all upset God the Mother—Gaia, Sophia, a vision of femininity originally unbridled by patriarchal context. Eve's poisonous variant of femininity is intentionally preceded by Adam's introduction of sin. This messes with the Genesis timeline to both free femininity from culpability in the Fall and paint this version of Eve as a flawed personage. This is reemphasized by our lack of visual insight into how Adam and Eve broke the crystallized fruit: Aronofsky rewrites the story so that audiences have less of an intrinsic urge to hold femininity responsible for the Fall.
During the Old Testament allegory, the house guests refuse to accept a single ounce of Mother's authority. Parts of the Bible have a nagging problem with women in positions of authority (1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Timothy 2:12), and it's difficult to explain these sentiments away while upholding full Biblical infallibility. Yes, those passages should be understood in context, I'm no stranger to responsible Biblical exegesis—I've navigated numerous sides of that debate and witnessed their resulting ideologies, pre-mother!-analysis. Abel's objectification of Mother also challenges the notion that 'good religious boys' are most likely to treat women with respect.
Once Him and the herald introduce organized religion to the house, the followers spite Mother in favor of Him's classical masculine tendencies and taste for power. This is both a result of and catalyst for their interpretation of Him's poem and character. Those who imbue an ultimate deity figure with aspects of 'masculinity'—decided by social systems of Biblical age and enforced by centuries of status quo—vilify femininity, but reap its benefits. Him's fans humiliate God the Mother and reduce her to a "cunt" (itself a crude label of fertility and procreation); they grope her breasts in a vile manner that betrays how her body has been sexualized (after a breastfeeding scene reminds us that this sexualization is a patriarchal projection). And yet, Mother's giving Nature is still the key to the only hope the film provides for the eventual forgiveness of humanity.
mother! is the repeated history of how male-dominated religious systems both survive off of femininity and allow its subjugation. Early on in the film, Mother lies to Adam and Eve when asked if the crystallized heart was a gift from her—the internalization of a system not giving womanhood credit.
So, that's what I've been thinking about lately. There are elements I didn't expound upon, such as Aronofsky's conflation of his artist self with God the Father: the Mother we see in the first shot has the face of Rachel Weisz, Aronofsky's previous girlfriend, and the Mother we spend our time with is portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, Aronofsky's current girlfriend. Perhaps J-Law should be suspicious of the actress in the closing shot. These choices go deeper than supposed pretension: consider the side of God with which Aronofsky aligns himself. Now that's self-criticism.
As this was primarily a dive into narrative and theme, I didn’t give myself the extended opportunity to investigate how the film’s technical form informs its messages as well. The cinematography, direction, set design, lighting, sound design, and color grading all serve purposes other than facilitating an audio/visual feast. I promise that they suffuse the thematic content in scintillating ways, and if you’ve already seen the movie (which you hopefully have, because you read this far), I challenge you to rewatch it and keep your eye out for such interdependence.
I hope this exploration spun ideas into the web of understanding inside your brain. I enjoyed being your spider. mother! has proven to be one of the most divisive films in recent memory, and that’s partly due to the combination of objectivity and subjectivity that allegorical narrative brings to the table—and maybe something to do with the devouring of a newborn baby. No matter your opinion of the film, it has a lot to say, and you should too. Feel free to join the dialogue.
(My theories on the frog are middling. I have no idea what the fizzy drink means. Maybe I'll let you know after I watch mother! a second time.)
(Edit: I watched it a second time. I still have no idea what the fizzy drink means.)
(Edit, over a month later: I'm convinced that the yellow fizzy drink is a reference to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper.)