The Cult of Hysteria

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The Cult of Hysteria
During the women’s rights movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, woman who exhibited depression or psychotic symptoms were thought to have just come down with “hysteria”. Sigmund Freud was one of the first psychoanalysts to study hysteria in women, though others, including the psychoanalyst Charlotte Perkins-Gilman was sent to for her case of “hysteria”, S. Weir Mitchell, formed “the resting cure”. Mitchell prescribed Gilman the “resting cure” when she became depressed after the birth of her first and only child. The “resting cure” is the thought that women who exhibited symptoms of depression or other disorders of the mind could be cured by not thinking too much, not socializing too much and especially by not doing anything creative. The Yellow Wallpaper is Gilman’s semi-autobiographical short fiction story in which a woman on the “resting cure” just goes more insane because she cannot express herself in any way, shape or form.

Gilman uses irony throughout the story to convey man’s power over womankind. From the beginning, we see the tension between the main character of the story, who goes unnamed, and her husband: “John laughs at me, of course, one expects that in marriage.” This demonstrates the social world of the time, when women were expected to bow before their husbands and do as they were told. This quote also serves as a reminder of the central theme of the story: that women cannot be as high-functioning, intellectually, as men and are often ridiculed or scoffed at for expressing their ideas.

As a writer, the main character of The Yellow Wallpaper, a first time mother suffering from what today would be diagnosed as post-partum depression, feels trapped in her own mind and must sneak about to continue with her writing: “There comes John, and I must put this away, -- he hates to have me write a word,” this part of the story shows how belittled woman were in Gilman’s time. The fact that men thought it was far too...
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