Literary Analysis: the Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Since its publication in 1892, The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, has generated a variety of interpretations. Originally viewed to be a ghost story, it has been regarded as gothic literature, science fiction, a statement on postpartum depression, having Victorian patriarchal attitudes and a journey into the depths of mental illness. More controversial, but curiously overlooked is the topic of the rest cure' and whether Gilman's associations are fact or fiction. Evidence supports Charlotte Gilman may have misrepresented the Weir Mitchell Rest Cure, and pokes more holes in The Yellow Wallpaper."

The story's female character is suffering from "temporary nervous depression a slight hysterical(1) tendency," and prescribed a rest cure. The treatment enforced absolute bed rest, forbade physical, mental or social activities and required total isolation from family and friends. Eventually the lack of stimulation and complete solitude only added to the desolation, and pushed her to the brink of insanity.

The Yellow Wallpaper was based on Gilman's personal experience with postpartum depression and treatment received by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, pioneer of the Rest Cure. The parallels between her experiences and those of the story are noticeable, as are implications of late nineteenth-century patriarchal and medical attitudes toward women, during that time.

As a fictional story, and nothing else, The Yellow Wallpaper depicts a postpartum woman driven to psychosis by an inept doctor who is also her husband. However, as a fictional autobiography, it is read as an "indictment of the nineteenth-century medical profession and its patriarchal attitudes." After the 1973 reissue of The Yellow Wallpaper, Gilman directly criticizes Mitchell's treatment, saying, "the real purpose of the story was to reach Dr. S Weir Mitchell, and convince him of the error of his ways." She claimed his rest cure brought her "perilously near to losing [her] mind."

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