21 July 2013
Short Story Analysis
The Yellow Wallpaper: The Power of Society’s Views On the Care of Mental Patients
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman takes the form of journal entries of a woman undergoing treatment for postpartum depression. Her form of treatment is the “resting cure,” in which a person is isolated and put on bed rest. Her only social interaction is with her sister-in-law Jennie and her husband, John, who is also her doctor. Besides small interactions with them, most of the time she is left alone. Society believes all she needs is a break from the stresses of everyday life, while she believes that “society and stimulus” (pg 347, paragraph 16) will make her better. When she voices her opinion to her husband he tells her to not think about it - to trust him because he is a doctor and knows what is best. She then redirects her energy towards the yellow wallpaper design in her bedroom, spending her days crawling on the floor in circles trying to figure it out. The story reveals that the social factors of the time, a woman’s place and views on mental illness, goes against what is actually good for her and eventually leads to her condition to worsen. If she was able to do what she thought was best she would have gotten better. Her role as a woman, as a mental patient, and inability to express her feelings are what leads to her complete loss of sanity.
The narrator’s husband, backed up by her brother who is also a physician, is in control of everything that she is able to do, despite what she believes would be best. From the beginning she expresses that she does not agree with what is being done to her. She states, “Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good” (pg 347) which is basically the exact opposite view of the outside world. She also makes it clear that John being a physician “perhaps... is one reason I do not get well faster. … he does not believe I am sick!” (pg 347). The fact that he is a physician in charge of her care says enough. He is trained to deal with physical symptoms. At this time there were no psychiatrists because people didn’t believe that mental illness was a real condition. They did not know of chemical imbalances inside the brain. Since John sees no physical evidence, he believes it is something that she has made up and will go away with time. Whenever she gets upset and expresses that she wants to leave he tells her to just use her will and self-control, as if it is that simple. He thinks she is merely not trying hard enough. When he tells her she is looking better, she begins to say, “Better in body perhaps...” suggesting that she is sick in the head and he gets very angry with her. He tells her, “It is a false and foolish fancy” and to “trust him as a physician” blatantly telling her that she is wrong and mental illness is not real. When she asks John to remove the wallpaper, he says he won’t because he feels she is letting it get the better of her and would then take it further and ask him to remove all the furniture. She then ‘corrects’ her feelings once he has made her feel bad for them and states that she would “not be so silly as to make him uncomfortable just for a whim” (349). He starts making her take half-hour naps after every meal, but she doesn’t sleep, she stays in the room and stares at the yellow paper. Though he is trying to be a good doctor, everything he tries backfires and leads to her insanity. The main character explains that since John is her husband as well as a doctor and has explained to friends and family that there isn’t really anything wrong with her besides a temporary depression, she can’t do anything about it (pg 347). She doesn’t even know the name of the drugs she is being given, which are scheduled to be taken every hour and given to her by John. When she says she gets mad at John sometimes she brushes it off as...
Cited: Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Roberts and Zweig 346.
Roberts, Edgar V and Robert Zweig. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Backpack ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2012. Print.
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