Essay, Research Paper: Yellow Wallpaper By Charlotte Gilman

Literature: Yellow Wallpaper

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Throughout history people have always seemed to follow what notions that were
considered “cool”. Though I doubt that “cool” was the word used to
describe these notions they were still there in some form or another. One of the
greatest farces ever committed in the name of these popular perceptions was
medicine. At that time, medicine that was on the cutting edge seem to have
always involved some sort of noxious chemical or a typically atrocious diet. Not
to mention the fact that ninety-nine percent of the doctors were men. Women’s
notions were immediately discounted on the bases of the preconception that women
were not meant for such enlightened thoughts. No, men really knew what was best
and women were meant to stand by what their husbands’ said. This brings one
particular husband to mind and how he was responsible for his wife going
completely and utterly insane. His name is John and he is the husband to a woman
who was diagnosed with a temporary nervous depression, meaning a slight
hysterical tendency. Through John's interference he turned what was considered a
minor case of a chemical imbalance into to full blown schizophrenia. During the
turn of the century, which is when this story took place, what scientists knew
of the human mind wouldn’t fill the inside of a matchbook. This was for
certain the case when it was a woman who was the patient. If there was any
deviation in the accepted behavior of a woman as deemed by society, the woman
was considered hysterical. When dealing with these patients, instead of
seriously considering the consequences of their actions, they went along with
obscenely stupid notions on how to deal with problems of the mind. The
conventional course of action to take in the narrator’s case was the one of
nothing. I mean literally, nothing. For the narrator was considered hysterical
and slightly depressed and there was only one course of action for such
symptoms. That was one of complete rest. In those days the rest cure was very
popular. It involved being set apart from anything that might have even the
remotest possibility of stress in it. The main character of The Yellow Wallpaper
was indeed set apart from all activity as directed by her husband. John
dutifully followed the set path, not questioning any of the accepted methods. He
set his wife up in a large, old house for the summer, kept all company that was
thought to be excitable away, and separated her from her child. All this was
done under the idea that these things would lower the narrators nervousness. He
even took away her writing. She quickly finishes one paragraph with: “There
comes John, and I must put this away-- he hates to have me write a word.” The
narrator is troubled by this nonaction on her part. A child of the times, she
also follows the currently accepted rule that state she needs rest and that her
state is not that serious. Though she believes “it is only nervousness,” she
does feel that, “It does weigh on one so not to do no duty in any way.”
However, she cannot bring herself to openly objecting to convention. In face of
her solitude she has only one pastime, which is obsessing over the hideous
wallpaper in her room. She describes it quite well when she says, “The color
is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the
pattern is torturing. You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well
under way in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps
you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.
The outside pattern is a florid arabesque, reminding one a fungus. If you can
imagine a toadstool in joints an interminable string of toadstools, budding and
sprouting in endless convolutions-why, that is something like it.” I would
imagine that would not be considered an appropriate way to pass the time. In
fact it is probably the worst thing to be giving an unstable mind a teasingly,
unstable object to focus upon. John does not give any thought to this, but, of
course he is the doctor and he thinks he knows best. But then why doesn't his
cure work? The narrator seems to be getting worse, not better. Someone who had
the slightest bit of common sense probably would have thought that this cure was
not right in this case and try a different approach. John, however, thought
otherwise and kept with the rest cure, making her take, “cod liver oil and
lots of tonics and things, to say nothing of ale and wine and rare meat.” I
suppose at the time nutrition was not thought of as highly important as it is
today and therefore people lacked the lacked the knowledge of how meat should be
properly cooked and while one glass of wine a day may be healthy, ale was
certainly not a dietary need. In fact, just a room change might have been the
right change to make in her life. She goes on about her room with, “I don’t
like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened onto the piazza and had
roses all over the window, and suck pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings! But
John would not hear of it.” It seems that John was being a bit stuborn on the
subject, probably just out of self-centeredness. He is not the one who spent
most of their time in that room. Then again, he might not be doing this to the
narrator out of stubbornness. He might simply not know what his wife’s
condition is. She tries hard to not show her suffering when he is there. Which
isn’t often. John seems to have neglected his wife a great deal. In the story,
he comes across as always being absent on trips to see other patients. He
apparently truly thought that this rest cure was sufficient and that he did not
need to spend time with his wife. But even if he is gone a lot, there is no
excuse for missing the dire symptoms his wife was showing. She may have been
trying to hide her misery, but he, her spouse, should still have been able to
spot it. Unfortunately, her symptoms went unnoticed and untreated. At least
properly, that is, unless you consider the rest cure to be appropriate. I find
John in fault for this. He was her physician and her husband. Yet he didn’t
have enough sense to see how his wife was suffering. Instead of treating his
wife as his wife and not another patient, he would have noticed how wrong the
conventional ideas were and done something that would actually help his wife.
Everything he did was based on what other doctors thought. He did not try to go
against what is, and always shall be, the most ludicrous way of treating the
mentally ill. Because of his incompetence, he left his wife in a room with an
obsession that proved to be too much. What was a treatable, mild case of mental
disorder became complete insanity. All this was done at his hands and no amount
of washing could ever cleanse them of his wrongdoing.
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