Postpartum Psychosis in the Yellow Wallpaper

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Postpartum Psychosis in the Yellow Wallpaper

By | November 2012
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Post-Partum Psychosis and “The Yellow Wallpaper”

“The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, tells the story of a woman’s descent into madness as a result of postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis is a condition that affects between one and two of every thousand live births. The condition of postpartum psychosis usually begins within two weeks of giving birth and sometimes within a matter of days. (“Depression”, 2009)

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis are “delusions or strange beliefs, hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there), feeling very irritated, decreased need or inability to sleep, paranoia, rapid mood swings and difficulty communicating at times”. (“Postpartum Psychosis”, 2009)

The introduction to “The Yellow Wallpaper” tells of Charlotte Gilman suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter. Gilman was treated by the famed physician Silas Weir Mitchell. While depression was not a recognized illness during the early 1800s, the treatment for what was referred to as nervousness or mental illness was called the “rest cure”. (Oppenheim, 1991) The rest cure typically involved the patient living away from society. The treatment usually lasted over the course of many weeks or months. The cure often involved isolation from friends and family and enforced bed rest. Patients were sometimes prohibited from talking, reading, writing and even sewing.

After seeking help for her personal bouts of depression, Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a work of fiction that mirrored her own life in many ways. Another view that plays out in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is how the narrator feels trapped by society and her husband’s patriarchal views. While Gilman uses her work “The Yellow Wallpaper” to express her frustration with the treatment she received for depression, she takes the position of the narrator further into psychosis than she herself went.

At the beginning of the story, the narrator tells...
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