Essay, Research Paper: Yellow Wallpaper By Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Literature: Yellow Wallpaper

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In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the dominant/
submissive relationship between an oppressive husband and his submissive wife
pushes her from depression into insanity. It is about the growing madness of a
young married woman arising out of the pressures of her life. A woman who is
being treated for a case of post-partum depression is slowly driven mad by the
treatment itself – enforced isolation and deprivation of her work, her
writing, and her words. Error of human nature seems to play a great role in her
breakdown. Her husband, a noted physician, is unwilling to admit that there
might really be something wrong with his wife. This same attitude is seen in her
brother, who is also a physician. While this attitude, and the actions taken
because of it, certainly contributed to her breakdown; it seems to me that there
is a rebellious spirit in her. Perhaps unconsciously she seems determined to
prove them wrong. As the story begins, the woman tells of her depression and how
her husband and brother dismiss it. “ You see, he does not believe I am sick!
And what can one do? 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?” These two men, both doctors, seem completely unable to admit that
there might be more to her condition than just stress and a slight nervous
condition. Even when a summer in the country and weeks of bed-rest don’t help,
her husband refuses to accept that she may have a real problem. Throughout the
story there are examples of the dominant-submissive relationship. She is
virtually imprisoned in her bedroom, supposedly to allow her to rest and recover
her health. She is forbidden to work, “So I...am absolutely forbidden to
“work” until I am well again.” She is not even supposed to write: “There
comes John, and I must put this away – he hates to have me write a work.”
She has no say in the location or décor of the room she is virtually imprisoned
in. “I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted...but John would not hear of
it.” Another factor is being forbidden to have visitors: “It is so
discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work...but he
says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those
stimulating people about now.” Probably in large part because of her
oppression, she continues to decline. “I’m getting really fond of the room
in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper. It dwells in the
mind so!” Here she is expressing her feelings for the room that she has been
forced to live in, as it grows on her. At this point it becomes quite apparent,
to the reader, that she is not getting any better. In later lines she talks of
herself laying on the bed and trying to follow the lines to their destinations,
wherever they might lead. The wallpaper of the room begins to occupy her mind
and her writing. Her changing attitudes toward the wallpaper reflect her
changing attitudes towards her situation, and eventually towards herself as
well. At the beginning she is aware of the influence the wallpaper has on her,
and resents it. “This paper looks to me as if it knew what a vicious influence
it had! There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls at you like a broken
neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down. I get positively angry at
the impertinence of it and the everlastingness.” Again and again she asks her
husband to take her someplace else, where she might be able to get “advice and
companionship about her work”, at the home of her cousins Henry and Julia. He
refuses, of course, since he cannot see what is “haunting” her and also
because he does not want to give in to her “false and foolish fancy”. He is
especially harsh with her when she confesses to him her real worries about her
situation. “ ‘My darling,’ said he, ‘I beg of you, for my sake and for
our child’s’ sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one
instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so
fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy. Can
you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?’ ” Not only does he fail
to get her help, but by keeping her virtually a prisoner in a room with
nauseating wallpaper and very little to occupy her mind, let alone offer any
kind of mental stimulation, he almost forces her to dwell on her problem. Prison
is supposed to be depressing, and she is pretty close to being a prisoner.
Perhaps if she had been allowed to come and go and do as she pleased her
depression might have lifted. “I think sometimes that if I were only well
enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.” It
seems that just being able to tell someone how she really felt would have eased
her depression, but John won’t hear of it. The lack of an outlet caused the
depression to worsen. Meanwhile, her reaction is to seek to prove him wrong on
his “prescription”. It seems to me that while putting on an appearance of
submission she was frequently rebelling against her husband’s orders. She
writes when there is nobody around to see her, she tries to move her bed, but
always keeps an eye open for someone coming. The tension between what she
considers as her work and what her husband says is her work is clear in her
mixed feelings. It is the enforcement of her husband’s opinion, which deprive
her of her freedom and pressure her into seeking it in the only way left to her.
Even in her madness, she can identify the fact that the circumstances that
trapped her and drove her to seek freedom in insanity are not unique.
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