Jane's Postpartum Depression in "The Yellow Wallpaper"
In the "The Yellow Wallpaper," Charlotte Perkins Gilman describes her postpartum depression through the character of Jane. Jane was locked up for bed rest and was not able to go outside to help alleviate her nervous condition. Jane develops an attachment to the wallpaper and discovers a woman in the wallpaper. This shows that her physical treatment is only leading her to madness. The background of postpartum depression can be summarized by the symptoms of postpartum depression, the current treatment, and its prevention. Many people ask themselves what happens if postpartum depression gets really bad or what increases their chances. Jane's treatment can show what can happen if it is not treated correctly. If Jane would have had different treatment, then she would not have gone insane.
Gilman wrote this story to describe her experience with her own postpartum depression and the experiences with Dr. Mitchell. In 1886, Dr. Mitchell was "the nation's foremost specialist in the women's nervous disorders'" (Seymor-Smith 979). After the birth of her daughter, Katherine Beecher Stetson, Gilman was weighed down with an upsetting depression. Gilman started treatment with Dr. Mitchell (979). "The Yellow Wallpaper" was written to criticize Dr. Mitchell's cure for women's depression. After
Gilman wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper," she submitted her essay to Dr. Mitchell. He changed his treatment after reading the story (footnote in Gilman 431). "The Yellow Wallpaper" was inspired by Gilman's own experiences with the depression (Seymor-Smith 979). Knowing the symptoms of postpartum depression is critical for a young mother's discovering that she may have the depression. Jane's symptoms are obvious. Jane just has had a baby, and she has sudden mood swings at times. There are times in the story that she gets really angry with her husband, John. John is a medical doctor that helps Jane physically instead of mentally and emotionally. Jane is also isolated from everyone else. Therefore, she finds herself many times getting bored. Since "The Yellow Wallpaper" is an autobiographical story, I conclude that she has worked before as a writer because she refers to writing in the story. After the baby is born, she has a sudden change to where she cannot write anymore. Jane also has a hard time sleeping at night. The symptoms of postpartum depression can take two forms: one starting right after the birth and becoming more distressing as time passes, and the other is several weeks after the birth and develops more slowly (Mothersbliss). Postpartum depression can last from "a few hours to several days and may affect between 40 and 80% of postpartum women" (O'Hara 277). Many of the symptoms are sleep disorders, panic attacks, poor concentration, irregular menstrual periods, anemia, and weakness (Carlson 477). One factor contributing to the postpartum depression is the sudden change in hormones caused by childbirth that can affect the mother's mood (Benson 1404). Another factor that adds to postpartum depression is the sudden change in lifestyle, especially if the mother had been working Olley 3
before (1404). The symptoms that Jane has clearly points to postpartum depression, and the way she is treated for it does not help any. The current treatment of postpartum depression can help a young mother before it gets to the severe mental state of Jane. Jane's treatment only makes her worse. Jane takes phosphates or phosphites and tonics. Air, exercise, and journeys are essential to Jane's health. Jane is also forbidden to work (Gilman 431). Jane takes pain medication to control her anger. She must have perfect rest and all the air she can get. She feels discouraged because she has no one to give her advice or companionship about her work (432-433). John says, "You really are better, dear, whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh and color,...
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