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An illness examination of The Yellow Wallpaper

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Lisa Olson

on 15 December 2015

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Transcript of An illness examination of The Yellow Wallpaper

An illness examination of The Yellow Wallpaper
The Yellow Wallpaper
By Charlotte Perkins

Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman shows how tough it is to have depression or anxiety in the late 1800’s and how people were forced to believe they have an illness that isn’t okay with the rest of society. Gilman wrote that the purpose of the story “was not intended to drive people crazy but was intended to save people from being driven crazy” (Hume). This story shows Gilman’s journey with mental illness and using the rest cure.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
What is the Rest Cure?
“American neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell developed the rest cure in the late 1800s for the treatment of hysteria, neurasthenia and other nervous illnesses”.The rest cure was used in the United States and the United Kingdom. It was used more often for women then for men. The end goal for the rest cure is to break the "patient’s will" by removing them from an possible toxic atmospheres at home. The rest cure usually lasted six to eight weeks with bed rest and and a constant milky based diet. “Patients were sometimes prohibited from talking, reading, writing and even sewing.”
“Mitchell believed the point of the rest cure was physical and moral."
Silas Weir Michell
This story shows the narrators depression but it also gives an example of what women had to go through with dealing with men who are in control of the household. Because women's roles and rights were so limited and men had the power to determine what was best for them, women were mistreated for mental illnesses.
Yellow Wallpaper
is about a woman’s “descent into madness as she undergoes the seclusion and enforced idleness of Weir Mitchell’s cure” (Martian). The madness was caused by her husband, John, and having a child. John states she is “depressed and cannot work until she is well” and her brother “agrees” (Gilman) showing how the men in her life are in control of her future. Women were treated as weak and men were always in control. Gillman expressed first signs of depression beginning at the time of her marriage, and her symptoms got worse after their child was born. Her husband, John, who is a doctor, saw the narrator as “suffering from a variation of nervous prostration, or neurasthenia,” (Bak) and did what any other doctor at that time would do: John diagnosed her with "temporary nervous depression, a slight hysterical tendency" (Gilman). He decided that what was called a rest cure was the best treatment for the illness.
The plan was to “renew the vitality of feeble people by a combination of entire rest and of excessive feeding” (Gilman). Mental inactivity through the rest cure was how the illness was often treated. Removing people who struggled with mental disorders and putting them into seclusion made it so the initial problem would be tucked away instead of figuring out a better way to diagnose the condition. This was almost as if the problem was being pushed to the side. Basically she must sit in a room with yellow wallpaper upstairs by herself all day, with no entertainment or company. Which would explain the title of the short story.

While on this rest cure the narrator was told she is not allowed to write, which was her only escape from her world and current depression and anxiety. She states how “He hates to have me write a word” (Gilman). She has never “wanted to write” so much before. Without the ability to write she has no escape from falling into insanity, so she starts writing in secret, enjoying the thrill of disobeying. Eventually, however, she is threatened with “fireworks in her pillowcase” if she writes again, showing again how the male figure is always in control.
Unfortunately “a woman suffering postpartum depression and improperly treated with isolation and inactivity” (Wagner-Martin) will lead to boredom and daydreaming. Instead of getting better she starts to fall deeper into depression because she feels unheard and subsequently feels like something is therefore wrong with her. Leaving her with no entertainment will start to slowly make her become crazy. The narrator seems to be in a fight with herself on comparing her level of madness.
Gilman with the wallpaper
“Mary is watching her child” (Gilman) while the narrator is in the room with the yellow wallpaper. The narrator should be devastated but still she does what her husband wishes and goes through with the rest cure. She is slowly going into “postpartum psychotic delirium” (Suess) which often follows after childbirth. This is where a mother might be irritable and often have hallucinations. The narrator mentions that there are scratches on the wallpaper and blames her child. Her child was just born so she obviously is starting to hallucinate.
Then she turns around and she is glad her child isn’t in the room she is in where the “wallpaper can make you fantasize about different worlds” (Gilman). The story shows “unbinding the social, domestic, and psychological confinements” (Davidson) of the narrator. Eventually she “does not defeat these dark social forces; instead, she becomes absorbed by them” (Hume).

Eventually she accepts that she is crazy. She writes that the “patterns don’t match” (Gilman) and the yellow wallpaper apparently starts changing. The story ends when the narrator has gone completely mad. Within her madness she escapes in her mind leaving the room, which was a triumph for her. She feels free from the responsibilities of a mother and free from the control of the men in her life. Being confined is extremely stressful, especially on someone already struggling with mental illness, and will lead to the “chilling account of a woman's entrapment, defeat, and movement toward madness” (Hume). Therefore, “The yellow wallpaper is a tale of a mental breakdown” (Suess) of an innocent woman, trapped in a world of inequality.
The rest cure remained popular and ended toward the early 20th century. Women today have more rights and options. Depression and anxiety is now common among most people and isn't seen as a horrible mental illness and has better cures with doctors, treatments, and medication.
Works Cited
Bak, John S. "Escaping The Jaundiced Eye: Foucauldian Panopticism In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's `The

Yellow.." Studies In Short Fiction 31.1 (1994): 39. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 21 Nov. 2015
Davison, Carol Margaret. "Haunted House/Haunted Heroine: Female Gothic Closets In "The Yellow
Wallpaper." Women's Studies 33.1 (2004): 47-75. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
Hume, Beverly A. "Gilman's `Interminable Grotesque': The Narrator.." Studies In Short Fiction
28.4 (1991): 477. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
Knight, Denise D. "The Yellow Wallpaper." American History through Literature 1870-1920.
Ed. Tom Quirk and Gary Scharnhorst. Vol. 3. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2006. 1227-1230. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
Martian, Diana, M.D. "Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Yellow Wallpaper”."
Psychiatryonline. American Psychiatric Association, 5 May 2007. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
"Science Museum. Brought to Life: Exploring the History of Medicine." Rest Cure.
ScienceMuseum.org, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.
Suess, Barbara A. "The Writing's On The Wall" Symbolic Orders In 'The Yellow Wallpaper'."
Women's Studies 32.1 (2003): 79. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.
Wagner-Martin, Linda. "The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1892." Reference
Guide to Short Fiction. Ed. Thomas Riggs. 2nd ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1999. [1109]. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
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