Usurpation of Identity in the Yellow Wallpaper
Usurpation of Identity in “The Yellow Wallpaper” Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story of a woman who goes mad while fixating on a bizarre wall-covering has been used as an early example of post-partum depression. In the latter part of the 1800’s women were seen as inferior subordinates to men who could not be trusted due to the effect of the female organs on their brains. The narrator is almost certainly a victim of the lack of medical knowledge of the day, while the prevailing attitudes in the medical field of women as childlike and the social pressure of male domination contribute to the narrator’s illness. The husband’s role as spouse and physician enable his benevolent manipulation of the narrator by isolating her and removing her societal roles as wife and mother in an effort to help her cure herself of her hysteria. Placed in a vacuum of selfhood in which the nanny and sister-in-law are allowed to usurp her identity, she is left no other choice but to create a new existence using the unhealthy stimulation of the yellow wallpaper. Prevailing attitudes in the late nineteenth century in America were that women were frail, feeble-minded, and prone to hysteria unless carefully managed by men. A key passage in the story that illustrates this is when the narrator says “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression-a slight hysterical tendency-what is one to do?” (Gilman 792). In Gilman’s story, the narrator’s husband John is not only her spouse but a respected physician. This dual status gives John a weight of seeming wisdom that creates an unhealthy atmosphere for the narrator. She says that “It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so” (797). First she is taken out of her usual habitat as they live in a rented house for the summer, and then she is separated from her family and friends.
Cited: Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 8th ed. Vol. C. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton, 2012. 792-803. Print.