The Yellow Wallpaper

The short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1899) is about a female protagonist that suffers from a mental illness that worsens over time due to the lack of outside stimuli. She is married to a physician and has a child with him, they move to a mansion like home for three months, to give her some space and a change of scenery for her to rest and get better in health. Her diagnostic is: “temporary nervous depression…hysterical tendency” (pg. 1, Paragraph 8) This piece of literature was published in the late 1800s, in this time diagnosis for illness of the mind were not so easy to identify such as: obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, etc. This is one reason why the wife of John the physician wasn’t “properly” taken care of, however in this point in time he is doing the best medically for his wife. He constricts her life to, “take phosphates or phosphites – whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I well again.” (Pg. 1, paragraph 10) to keep her calm and well rested and free from stress by isolating her from the world as much as possible. In order to cope with isolation, she leads her to focus on the house and she speaks about it in her journal entry as to keep her mind busy. She speaks about the different aspects of her home, the details she expresses makes the house almost welcoming. Except for one small detail, which eventually leads to a mental breakdown.

In the beginning, the narrator speaks about the house and all its details, however when it comes to moving into a room to sleep in, her husband neglects her input because he knows what’s best for her. They end up in the room upstairs with a magnificent view but one small detail that will lead to her mental disorder to worsen. There is a yellow wallpaper in that room and according to her, “The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.” (page 2, paragraph 8-9) shows us the discomfort she feels with this piece of paper. She confronts her husband about this, in which he responds with, “I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies.” (page 2 paragraph 23) Meaning he will not change the wallpaper for her saying, “after the wallpaper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on.” (page 2 paragraph 24) As I was reading this, it reminded about the prose poem “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid in which the girl was given a set of restrictions and rules to follow just like the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. The narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, was restricted from going outside, to vist family, and was restricted to the confines of her room. As time progresses, the yellow wall paper becomes something more, a form of outer expression for the narrator, she says, “The front pattern does move — and no wonder! The woman behind it shakes it!” (page 7, paragraph 20) “Then in the very bright spots keeps still, and in the very shady spots she takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard.” (page 7, paragraph 22) “And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern – it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.” (page 7, paragraph 23) These observations that the narrator writes down in her journal entry, expresses the sanity in which her mind is in as of now. For me the bars represent the prison she feels trapped in because of the isolation she is kept in by her husband, the woman she speaks of that is creeping around is a depiction of herself, and the many heads could be the breakdown in her mental state.

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