A Liberating Madness in “The Yellow Wallpaper”
What is madness? And what is the state we define as sanity? Mental illness is characterized by disturbances in a person’s thoughts, emotions, or behavior. However there is no universally accepted definition. In general, the definition of mental illness depends on a society’s norms, or rules of behavior. According to Encarta Online Encyclopedia, Behaviors that violate these norms are considered signs of deviance or, in some cases, of mental illness. Therefore sanity and insanity are better understood as a construction of the society we live in. Gilman’s Yellow Wallpaper portrays a woman’s struggle against society’s expectations, and her journey into madness as a means to break free from those conventions that oppressed her.
The Yellow Wallpaper portrays the growing madness of a nineteen-century woman who is being treated for post-partum depression. John, her physician and husband prescribes her a rest cure, which is the norm treatment of the time. The narrator, who remains unnamed, is driven mad by the treatment itself, which consisted of enforced isolation and deprivation of her work. “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 condition --a slight hysterical tendency--what is one to do?” (1,2) It is interesting to note that John does not believe that she is “really” sick, meaning that there is nothing physically wrong with her. On the other hand, John does acknowledge her sickness; he uses it as a means of empowerment to increase his control over her.
The development of the narrator’s writing is closely linked with her insanity. She is writing the story, secretly, since both her husband and his sister disapprove it. She is a writer, that is her work, and forbid her to work is a part of her treatment. Her writing is the only place where she can express herself. “I don’t...
Cited: Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. New York: The Feminist Press, 1973. Print
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