The Yellow Wallpaper: Realistic Account of Woman's Mental Illness

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In “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the writer takes a deeper view into mental health complications during the 1800’s. In this book, the reader can understand that the author has clear equality beliefs between females and males, specifically mentally. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a short story published in 1892 about a woman that struggles with a mental illness, yet she cannot rehabilitate her illness because of her husband’s disbelief and lack of knowledge. Back in the 1800’s Postpartum depression wasn’t held accountable, people were unaware of this severe psychological trauma. During this time, women were oppressed by society and were perceived as inferior by men. Charlotte Perkins Gilman precisely illustrates the thoughts of society throughout the period of time “The Yellow Wallpaper” was written.

Since the beginning of the short story, the audience can begin to analyze the male mindset through the character male character John, who was the husband of the women struggling with a mental illness. John’s communication, expressions, and actions were the characteristics that most men possessed during this time. He was a physician who had diagnosed his wife with what he would refer to as a ‘slight hysterical tendency’ but is delusional into accepting that his wife is struggling with a severe problem. “Hysteria in the nineteenth century wasn’t well understood as a psychological disorder and was incorrectly thought to primarily affect women. The treatment for perceived hysteria was the rest cure. Used from 1873 to about 1925, it typically involved confining women to their beds, where they were often bathed and fed, forbidding them to social interactions or work”. The author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, struggled with hysteria and postpartum depression herself, therefore she did not agree with what men judged her mental illness.

Gilman with this short story, gave her strong opinion on men and their perspective on women, which was very much needed during this period. Most women did not have the advantages of being able to “raise their voices”, back then, only men could do so. She gives her strong opinion about men in society during this time. Even though John had the position of a man that could help someone cure, since he was a physician, the audience can understand his form of manipulation and lack of ability to listen to his wife’s considerations and concerns. This is similar to how adults treat young children, adults have a say in everything that happens in a child’s life, this is how men mistreated woman during this time, as if we were children. This is a clear point when the wife, which name is intentionally anonymous throughout the story, says, “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression- – slight hysterical tendency- – what is one to do?” (Gilman).

The male purpose in this short narrative is seen as a ‘caregiver’. For this reason, the female character feels obligated to be thankful for all of the things that her husband is doing for her. Even though, through Johns’ point of view, the narrator is just being overly dramatic. She is always grateful for what he is doing for her, like the actions of taking her to a house where no one can have contact with her and keeping her in a room. The narrator says, “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction,” in addition to saying, ”He takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more” (Gilman).

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Due to gained knowledge, we as the readers infer that the women in the short narrative struggled from postpartum depression. Yet, the book never states this was her exact mental illness. Now that we have the Internet, we get to take a deeper look into this illness and understand the women from the book. During the 1800s there was not any female doctors, therefore this condition was undiagnosed or diagnosed as something else. Charlotte Perkins Gilman is now diagnosed as a woman that struggled with postpartum depression after her daughter’s birth. Nowadays when a female reads her short narrative, we have the knowledge to interpret her illness as postpartum depression.

After giving birth to a baby, most women feel joy and excitement, but something that has never been linked to birth is depression, until doctors realized this is actually a pretty common thing. Some symptoms of postpartum depression include hallucinations, delusions, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts amongst many others. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” the narrator mostly struggles with hallucinations. She says, “I see her on the long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage comes she hides under the blackberry vines” (Gilman). Further on, the narrator worried about her baby, but she cannot see him or be with him, “It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous” (Gilman). Another effects of postpartum depression that the narrator struggles with are her mood wings as she says, “I cry at nothing and cry most of the time”(Gilman). These are some of the many clues in the short narrative, where one can guess she is fighting against not only postpartum depression but also herself and her husband.

Back in the 1800’s the only real cure for mental illnesses like postpartum depression was the so called “rest cure”. This treatment usually only lasted from six to eight weeks. It required for patients to stay in bed almost at every moment and with a strict diet. Patients had to be isolated from family and friends. All of these practices are seen in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, as the woman has to struggle with these cures instead of getting the actual help she needs.

To develop a better realization of “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the audience can analyze the female perspective of the whole situation. In order to understand the different perspective points in the story, one must read it as if it was a secret diary. The narrator gives a secretive vibe to the story as whenever her husband or sister visit her, she often hides from them. She writes her thoughts, because she cannot say them out loud or she will be even more misunderstood and mistreated. The narrator states, “I would not say it to a living soul, of course,” and continues by writing, “but this is dead paper and great relief to my mind” (Gilman).

The author gives two very different perspectives of women during the 1800’s. The first side that the reader perceives of women during this time is their conformist side. When the author quotes, “I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already,” (Gilman) she makes the readers understand that women were seen as inferior and found comfort by getting married and having a husband by their sides. The narrator feels that it is her fault and her mental weight the fact that she disliked the wallpaper. Regardless of how much the woman wanted to be in the other room with the blue wallpaper, she was forced to stay in the room with the yellow wallpaper. When the narrator states “I’ve got out at last,” she said, “in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back” (Gilman). By this, we can tell that she is finally defeating her conformist side.

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