The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The yellow wallpaper is primarily written as a result of Gilman’s confined care. The suggestion to stay in a remote location without speaking to anyone leads her to confide in her book. This is one of the ways her postpartum depression has affected her book writing. Even if it is with ‘dead document,’ it is seen as a way for her to have a stimulating discussion. Gilman’s stories were largely inspired by her experiences in the world, as well as her activism and creativity. Since she was limiting her contact with the outside world, she began keeping a hidden journal. Her husband attempted to cure his wife of her condition which was considered to be a nervous condition. Women were considered to suffer from physical and psychological damage if they become intellectually stimulated. Gilman’s post-partum depression that led to her writing the Yellow wall paper because she needed an outlet for all the things she could tell her husband who was following doctors recommendations and keeping her isolated. Different critics to her works have analyzed the Yellow Wall paper from a feminist perspective. Some believe that she was not mad or mentally disabled but only wrote the journal using fictional structures so as to show her husband the problems of the rest cure that he prescribed for her post-partum depression (Fellows 7).

The symptoms of post-partum depression may have also affected how the author wrote her journal. At the start, she describes the treatment included being put in a room with Yellow paper. Her condition may have led to her conclusion that the room with Yellow paper was previously a nursery. The condition may have led her to develop adverse feelings towards her child and also children in general. As such, she is predisposed to view the room as a nursery as she feels that it is suitable for children as they should be locked- up or even caged. She however presents the sentiments that she is glad it is not her child locked up in the room. She also exhibits such contrary behaviors in the journal e.g. where she acts queerly around her husband acting like her only wish is to please him. This is queer because she then later goes on to write the journal as if to spite him. The inconsistency in behavior shows a mind that is not certain or committed that could be a result of the depression and anxiety resulting from it (Fellows 9).

Gilman also uses the journal entries in the Yellow Paper to talk about the subordination of women in marriage. This is derived from the subordination she was experiencing at the time which was heightened by the fact that she was considered to be unfit to meet people and have any form of any intellectually stimulating communications. She wrote the story in the mid-19th century where women were considered to be domestic people whilst the males were the more active ones. With this regard women were thus 2nd class citizens. The story thus shows how the predominant gender –males- would use all forms of avenues to keep women in an ignorant state and one which prevented their full development especially intellectually and in careers. We can thus see that due to the fact that she was suffering from post-partum depression, Gilman is able to experience this stance of male superiority where John assumes intellectual superiority and misjudges, patronizes and dominates Gilman all in the name of ‘helping her’. Hudock’s social criticism of the book is exact in condemning the case that Gilman was going through as being treatment that is enabled by misogynistic principles and sexual politics (Huddock 1).

Gilman uses the journal to express her discontentment with the treatment that was prescribed to her. Her attack on the treatment is direct as she goes out of her way to show us how a mind already plagued with anxiety only deteriorates when left on its own or when prescribed the treatments as done by John. This attack takes precedence in the entire journal. The fact that she was suffering from post-partum depression puts her in a situation where she draws from personal experience and can reiterate the suffering she went through. Her attack on the treatment given to her by her husband as well as her attack on the subordination of women by men and the society shows us how the two roles can be abused. This is in regard to giving the patient or the women a say in what happens to them. The doctor does not take the patients concerns into consideration and Gilman used her case as a way to criticize any medical practice that does not factor in the patients concerns. She also makes a connection between the two forms of insubordination. We can see how she suffered both as a woman and as a patient. In all instances, she did not have a voice and had to look for other unconventional means to find solace such as in writing a journal and keeping it secret.

Gilman ends her narrator’s story with a descent into madness as the option for her to get out of the situation she was in. She uses her story’s ending as a way to show that there were very few options for women to leave or very few escape routes for women from the social subordinated lives they lived. By presenting insanity as the only way for a creative and intellectual woman to be free of mental captivity imposed by women, Gilman shows how at the time, the only way for a women to gain intellectual freedom was by putting themselves in a situation that would warrant more social ridicule than that they were in. This is also seen in Gilman’s life where after the post-partum depression incident, she divorced her husband. This move led her to receive a lot of ridicule from her friends and family. The context within which she ends is also strategic as it warns the readers of the dangers of denying women their humanity and how it can be dangerous not only for the woman but also her family and the society as a whole (Huddock 2).

All in all, I believe that Gilman’s e Yellow Wallpaper was mainly influenced by the post-partum depression that she was suffering from. This is seen in the themes presented in the story as well as other literary devices used. Her actual behavior as described by the narrator also shows signs that the author was suffering symptoms of post-partum depression.

Works Cited

Fellows. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Her Psychology of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” 12 July 2014. Web.

Huddock, Amy E. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series 7 March 1995: 1-3. Web.

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