The Yellow Wallpaper is a distinct, fascinating short story. Filled with charismatic, inflammatory content, there was nothing like The Yellow Wallpaper in its time. Charlotte Perkins Gilmans reason for writing The Yellow Wallpaper was to show readers what she and other women of her time had to go through and raise awareness for it (About the Author). What Gilman and other women went through was called the rest cure. The rest cure was a prescription given to those who suffered from hysteria (Stiles). Gilman was very close to falling to insanity during her treatment. Like Gilman, the rest cure was prescribed to the female protagonist in The Yellow Wallpaper. The only difference is that the protagonist was driven to insanity during her treatment. The protagonist went mad resulting from being physically, psychologically, and socially challenged.
The protagonist was being challenged physically as her day to day activities were very limited. Her prescription given to her was a very strict, bland treatment. The protagonists food was bland as well. Not a very exciting meal, for if she did have one it would only make her condition worse. There is a DELICIOUS garden! I never saw such a garden (Gilman), she admired the garden in the property but could not access it due to her ongoing treatment. Her thoughts were also supposed to be strictly blank. She was told to also keep her mind off her illness. According to her husband, it is the worst thing one can do with her illness John says the very worst thing I can do is think about my condition (Gilman.) The reason for this type of treatment was that its effects were supposed to return her to a normal state.
The protagonists location was also a big influence on her treatment. She was to remain in her house until she got better. I dont like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window. . . But John would not hear of it (Gilman), her room was to be plain and simple. This would allow her to focus on nothing and make it easier for the protagonist to rest. Sunlight was an important factor in her treatment as well. She was instructed to stay in a room with many windows in it. The windows would allow sunlight to fill the room and allow air inside too. She was to do nothing but relax and absorb it all.
The protagonist’s activities were closely monitored too. She could not participate in any activity that sprouted excited feelings. Her activities were to be boring and it was better for to just not do anything. It was better to keep her activities restricted because it would help her get better and back to normal life faster. The protagonist makes up with this by writing while her husband john is away. Even though she enjoys writing as her activity, she must hide it from John because of his hated towards the idea of her doing any sort of activity, There comes John, and I must put this away, –he hates to have me write a word (Gilman). The protagonist would love to go out and do various activities outside or inside but in different areas of the house, but she is unable to due to her husband constantly forcing her to do otherwise.
The protagonist is challenged physically throughout the story but is also psychologically challenged. The protagonist in the story suffered from neurasthenia. Neurasthenia is fatigue that is felt both physically and mentally, and the fatigue is followed with headaches. The origin of fatigue and headaches are unknown but are similar symptoms that are found in patients with depression (Neurasthenia). Neurasthenia is also closely related to chronic fatigue syndrome. Both diagnoses are very similar and seem to be a matter of different names rather than different symptoms. The diagnosis is given more as neurasthenia than chronic fatigue syndrome in Asia even though the symptoms are very similar (Cao).
The protagonist suffered from neurasthenia, but her symptoms also suggest she suffered from depression as well. The protagonists depression was described as hysteria during her diagnosis. Depression is a state where the mind and body are disrupted by a combination of symptoms. Those symptoms cause interference with everyday life such as eating and sleeping (What is Depression). A person with depression may always be sad all the time similar to the protagonist who wanted to get over with her treatment and resume a normal life. Emotions may unexplainably change similar to the protagonists feelings towards John at times, I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes (Gilman). She loved her husband but would get mad at him for no reason and would not know how to react towards her husbands care even though she knows he takes care of her very carefully and loves her.
Anxiety is also seen to have emerged as her treatment progressed. Anxiety is the excessive fear of something. That something does not have to be real and could have been imagined. A person grows fearful of something and constantly obsesses over it because of the persons constant fear towards it (Boll). The protagonist begins to hallucinate during her treatment. She starts to see someone in the yellow wallpaper in her room and she grows fearful of it. Anxiety sets in as her hallucinations progress. I have watched John. . . come into the room suddenly on the most innocent excuses, and Ive caught him several times LOOKING AT THAT PAPER! And Jennie too (Gilman), her anxiety causes the protagonist to obsess over something she made up in her mind.
As the protagonists anxiety grows, fatigue starts to set in. Fatigue is a state where the body constantly feels exhausted over a prolonged period of time. There are two types of fatigue that the body can go through. Mental fatigue is when someone is always feeling sleepy and cannot focus very well on their work. Physical fatigue is when someone is unable to carry out a task because of their body feeling tired and weak. The protagonists tone switched to a lazier tone as the story progressed, half the time now I am awfully lazy, and lie down ever so much (Gilman). It makes me tired to follow it. I will take a nap I guess. I dont know why I should write this. I dont want to. I dont feel able her statement suggests she is feeling both mental and physical fatigue.
Isolations is a factor that adds to her psychological challenges. The protagonist is isolated away from society and is being negatively affected because she is not able to carry out a healthy social life. Healthy social lives are important because they contribute to ones self esteem and how they see themselves. People may not always find comfort in one person and may need see others to find solace (Gander). The protagonist in the story is isolated away from everyone and is unable to go to anyone but her husband.
The protagonist has been separated from her family. Family is a big factor in a persons life. They find comfort in their families and go to them in stressful times. The protagonist had to go through her illness with only her husband who only enforced isolation. She may have grown home sick, only adding more psychological stress because of the loss of emotional support.
Along with being separated away from her family, the protagonist was separated from her friends. Friendship is a big factor in ones life and allows one to socially progress. They are the people in which someone builds their trust around. In times of depression, they are the people who return their gratitude as a friend and help them back up and that is what the protagonist was separated from. She could not see her friends at all and was unable to socialize with any of them. Without the support from her friends, she drowned deeper into the waters of depression.
The protagonist was not allowed to have neighbors either. Without family nor friends she could have tried to make more friends, but there were no neighbors where she lived. There was no one she could look for help with. She was in complete isolation from the outside world. She was truly alone with just her husband trapped in her own home with no free will.
Along with the protagonist being isolated, she had to also hold back her thoughts. She could not talk about her condition because it would worsen but it would have psychologically helped her to talk about it and find a way through it and have some support. She had to force herself to put all thoughts away. This forced behavior only affected her negatively and she wanted to distract herself from her condition with activities, Personally, I believe congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good (Gilman). Her thoughts were only forced to show no emotion and think of nothing.
Forcing the mind to undermine her own thoughts drove her thoughts to become dependent. She longed to do other activities but instead listened to her treatment. My brother is also a physician. . . and he says the same thing. So I take phosphates or phosphites (Gilman), she listened to her husband and brother and did whatever she was instructed to do. The protagonists actions were similar to women of her time. They listened to what their male counterparts told them as they could practically do nothing alone. Like the protagonist, their thoughts were undermined when compared to the decision of their male counterparts, You see he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do. . . But what can one do (Gilman)? They could not do anything whatsoever when it came to be making a decision of their own.
It was hard for the protagonist and women of her time to make decisions because of social challenges they faced. Women were expected to oversee the needs of the house. They were to keep the house clean and neat during their time 1800s. Women were also in charge of taking care of the children and teach them how to grow up and be respectable men. Women had no rights and just listened to what their husbands told them to do. They were encouraged to learn housekeeping qualities instead of educational ones (Hartman). The protagonist knew how to write so it suggests she had some type of education. It is unknown what was her role in society was as she was to not do anything during her treatment.
Because of how society worked, women were trapped in their homes. They could not do anything else but stay inside and clean. Their minds were programmed to think that they could only grow up to be a housewife (Hartman). They were trapped much like the protagonist was. The protagonist was trapped in her own home and inside of her mind. Her only way of escape was through her writing.
Women did not have equal rights as men and were second-class citizens. They were thought to be inferior to their male counterparts (Hartman). Having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition (Gilman), if the protagonist would have tried to stand up against, she would have been taken down by her husband and brother because of their superiority. Women also did not have the right to vote. Their leaders were chosen by men only. The life of a woman alone in their society would be hard to live in without a male.
Men saw it as preposterous to even think about giving women rights. They saw it as unnecessary. Men would respond by saying that women belonged inside the house. The subject of womens suffrage was met with heavy opposition (Hartman). It was a mans job to work and provide for the family and for women to stay in their homes and cook and clean. That was the norm for the people in the 1800s. Both women and men agreed on how society was structured and it worked for them (Lange). The protagonist and Johns past shed some light on how their life was before her treatment.
The husband was a physician, If a physician of high standing. . . assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter. . . what is one to do (Gilman). He was of high standing, so it suggests he is well known. It also states he insists to their family that she is okay meaning they listened to his word as a physician and husband, but if she did give her say on her condition then it then suggests he has the superior influence as a male. Much like circumstances were with women and men in the 1800s.
Women tried to fight for suffrage in the late 1800s but did not gain enough support. Many men and women still supported the idea of men and womens roles to stay the same as it was before. Suffragists were met with opposition from women themselves too. Many suggested it was because they did not have time to vote due to being isolated in their home. Others suggest it could have just been the lack of knowledge in politics to understand the movements. Women had it hard during the 1800s and if they fought back, they would eventually lose. Just like women of her time, the protagonist was challenged with being inferior and could not make her own choices. Her decisions were made by her husband and backed up by her brother.
In conclusion, the protagonist went mad due to the physical, psychological, and social challenges she had to face throughout her treatment. She was trapped in her home where she was to relax, but instead was to meet loneliness and despair. She had to endure the state of having to force herself to do everything her treatment required. She was isolated away from everything, including her family. Having no support only led for her to drown in an unbeatable psychological battle with herself. Already having to face her present psychological challenges, she had to face oncoming challenges that would surface due to culminating environmental stress. Further stress was unavoidable as male superiority put her against a wall that she could not breach. She could not talk about her condition as she would be silenced by her husband who only made her condition worse. Hallucinations would begin as she only drew deeper into depression and overtook her sense of reality. The yellow wallpaper in her room would become the center of her attention. Before, she found solace in writing about her experiences, but fatigue would later take over her body only causing her to steer away from writing. With chaos assuming control of her mind, the protagonist could not resist any longer and fell into insanity.
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