37 pages 1 hour read

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

An Obstacle

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1884

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Symbols & Motifs

Biblical & Demonological Figures

Throughout the poem, Perkins Gilman includes religious and occult symbols. When conveying how intelligent the speaker is, Perkins Gilman says she “argues like a Solomon” (Line 23). The article “a” before Solomon transforms the Biblical figure into an archetype. Solomon is known in the Bible for being the wisest of the kings of Israel. In 1 Kings 3:7-12, Solomon asks God for discernment in justice, or wisdom, and God grants him this wish. Perkins Gilman’s simile casts the speaker as an embodiment of a Solomonic wisdom in opposition of the “fool” (Line 24) prejudice. Occult texts, called grimoires, regularly include the Key of Solomon, which reference his rule over demons.

At the end of the poem, Perkins Gilman includes a type of demon that Solomon faced and defeated—an incubus. Prejudice is no longer a man, but an “awful incubus” (Line 45) in the final stanza. An incubus is a male sex demon (a succubus is the female version of the same demon type). Generally, the sins related to incubi are physical (i.e. sexual) in nature. However, Perkins Gilman’s speaker views the demon as incorporeal—without the body of a huge man, as portrayed in previous stanzas—and defeats it by simply adopting detachment or indifference and walking through it.