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Seeing Oppression in Gilman’s “the Yellow Wallpaper”

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Seeing Oppression in Gilman’s “the Yellow Wallpaper”
The attitude towards women’s health by doctors and physicians has changed greatly over time. Women aren’t looked down upon by male doctors anymore, nor are these women dismissed as crazy or simply stressed when they believe they don’t feel well, seeking medical help. However, women in the past—specifically during the nineteenth century and before that—weren’t so fortunate. Oppression against women was great at that time; a woman receiving the same treatment as men was practically crazy, especially when women were supposed to be submissive, meek, and kind housewives to their men. In Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a turn of the century short story, an unnamed woman, suffering from what’s presumed to be postpartum depression, is prescribed the “rest cure” by her physician husband. They reside in a rental home for the summer, and the woman is isolated in a locked upstairs room to recover. From that point on, the readers watch as the woman slowly loses her mind under the influence of the rest cure. By writing the story from the first person point of view, the reader catches a large glimpse of the effects of the nineteenth century’s oppression by physicians against women. One of the devices of oppression that “The Yellow Wallpaper” covers is the rest cure, which physicians used for women who showed any signs of anxiety or depression. Dr. Diana Martin published an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry, giving a brief history of the cure and explaining what exactly it entails:
The cure, which was prescribed almost exclusively for women, had three core elements: isolation, rest, and feeding, with electrotherapy and massage added to counteract muscle atrophy. … The patient was instructed to lie in bed for 24 hours each day, sometimes for months at a time, with a special nurse who would sleep on a cot in the room, feed her, and keep her mind from morbid thoughts by reading aloud or discussing soothing topics. Visits from family and friends were



Cited: Gilman, Charlotte. The Yellow Wallpaper. Boston: Small & Maynard, 1899. Print. Martin, Diana, M.D. “The Rest Cure Revisited.” American Journal of Psychiatry 164.5 (2007): n. pag. Web. 9 Mar 2012.

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