In My Head: a Look at the Yellow Wallpaper

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In My Head
“Soft torture” is the method of destabilizing a person into no longer trusting reality or their own minds through methods such as extreme sleep deprivation. These techniques are used by intelligence agencies around the world for gaining information from uncooperative sources without having to resort to brute force in order to achieve their goals. But what happens when a person is unwittingly subjected to these tortures by both the people around her and herself? Who do you trust when even you have betrayed yourself without realizing it? In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” the main character Jane is driven mad by the wallpaper of her bedroom and the very time she lives in. In this story the setting is not only influential to what occurs but is the driving force behind everything making it the single most important factor in establishing the theme.

Charlotte Gilman wrote this story at the end of the nineteenth century but never specifies the exact time that it is set in. Therefore, it follows suit that readers are to assume that it is set in the time that it was written which explains much of the interpersonal relations between the characters and their various social roles. The main character, Jane, is totally subservient to her husband and her wishes mean next to nothing in their home. This fact appears to be a natural part of life as no one bats an eye at her lack of control in her own life, “He said that after the wall-paper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs and so on… But he is right.” Here Jane quits pushing the one issue that disturbs her in the house and is preventing her from recovering because her husband can easily dismiss her. Her opinions have no value of their own because her husband is both a man and a physician even though these opinions are about what distresses her personally. This is something that no one in the world can possibly know better than her but Jane’s husband John so easily ignores her needs because he has already decided everything about her situation. It also doesn’t help that both her husband and brother believe that she is not actually ill and that she is instead just being dramatic. With no one in her family to trust Jane is left with no one to turn to and must rely on her own strength to get through the illness that is plaguing her and draining her strength.

Being all alone is made far more difficult for Jane as she does her best to cope through her husband’s healing process. Because he has decided that she is suffering from an imaginary hysteria he has prescribed the curative method for the time, the “rest cure.” The rest cure was a method of healing believed to cure hysteria by removing all pressures and stress from the patient’s life in the hope that this would allow them to recuperate unencumbered by life’s daily stressors. This was to be accomplished by having the patient perform little to no physical activity at all, confining them to bed for a life of sleeping and eating with nothing else to think about. However, Jane demonstrates that with no one in her life and nothing to take her mind off of the crushing loneliness the rest cure only hinders recovery and encourages madness. When she tries to find solace in the activity of writing she is met with opposition which stresses her, “I did write for a while in spite of them; but it DOES exhaust me a good deal--having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition,” and this impedes her recovery. Writing is the only outlet she has for her feelings and for the stress that is making her sick, but her family fighting her at every turn makes this outlet not worth the increased stress that it creates. This further traps Jane within her own mind as she struggles with the crushing loneliness created by the time that she lives in which has left her powerless to deal with her own problems or interpret them as she sees fit....
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