Mental illness will eat away at the core of who a person is, leaving just a monster behind. In The Yellow Wall-Paper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman creates the narrative of a nineteenth century woman locked away in the countryside after her husband refuses to see her mental suffering. As the narrators psychosis comes to light, she loses more of who she is and the life that she has built. Gilman develops the protagonist, the wife, in the story by subtly progressing her through the symptoms of postpartum depression and the suffering her husband causes, ultimately leading to her psychotic break.
Postpartum depression, or rather mental illnesses, were unspoken in society back when this short story was written and even today our common knowledge is lacking. The clinical term for postpartum depression isa mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth. Mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that may make it difficult for them to complete daily care activities for themselves or for others. (NIMH).
It is essential to our common knowledge for us to understand the science behind this mental illness to prevent misconceptions and open the door for communication, as exemplified through this short story.
The narrators mental torment is apparent as soon as we start to learn more about her life. She has recently given birth to a baby boy that is now under the care of a nanny, due to the narrators difficulty to bond with the baby. Her inability to care for her child is not only one of the main symptoms of postpartum depression (NIMH), but it is also a trait that her husband could not fathom to possess.
Her husband, John, is overprotective and overbearing, deciding to lock the narrator away in the countryside for 3 months, in disbelief that there is anything askew. It is revealed that John is a physician of high standing who not only cloaks his wifes feelings but also claims to others that she is just hysterical (Gilman). His words and actions force the narrator to feel like she is a child being scolded and locked away in their room as punishment. Johns overreaching opinion regulates her diet, medicine, exercise, work, and mind further making her feel like a child, powerless. His power over her mind adds to her suffering from the mental illness, because instead of actively using writing as her outlet for her mind, she has to hide it like a dirty secret.
The main source of her active mind is the torn andsprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin (Gilman) yellow wallpaper that allows her to lose herself. Initially, she becomes just lost in trying to follow the pattern and make sense of it. But as time goes on, she exhibits insomnia, (watching) the moonlight on that undulating wallpaper till I felt creepy (Gilman) which leaves her at the mercy of her imagination running rampant.
Irritability is a sign of postpartum depression that it is time to reach out and receive psychological help (NIMH), but instead, she keeps it locked away in her mind, unraveling gradually just like she unravels the wallpaper with her eyes. One might believe that the others around her feel as if something is askew, and it is true that (John) seems very queer sometimes, and even Jennie (Gilman) but instead of acknowledging that he is wrong, John slowly starts to remove himself from her daily life.
As John is distancing himself, she distances even further from reality. Her hold on who she is as a person is slipping away even more so once she hides the enjoyment and release that the wallpaper provides for her. The focus is solely on unraveling the wallpapers design, as it moves and shakes from the woman trying to escape. This analogy is towards the narrators postpartum depression symptoms, hidden away underneath her true identity but ready to break free. As the woman behind shakes the cages, and the narrator strips the wallpaper off, her true identity is being stripped away to make room for the monster that is her illness.
The postpartum depression symptoms come to a head when the narrator suffers her psychotic break. She is frantically trying to strip the wallpaper off, promising that she will catch this mystery woman. Even though she thinks about suicide, she herself know(s) well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued (Gilman) therefore she is becoming more of a danger to others than to herself. Suddenly, the voice of the narrator switches when she asks herself if everyone else was created from the wallpaper, and describes herself slinking around the room, like a monster. Creepily enough, the strange groove that was earlier described in the passage, is the perfect height and fit for this monster as it roams about. The chilling analogy foreshadows the final scene, when John enters the room to check in on his wife. Once opening the door, he fears for his life as he sees the darkness that has overcome his once beloved. As the monster slinks towards him, he dies and collapses right into the grooved pathway.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman created the storyline of the narrator suffering with postpartum depression by guiding her through the different symptoms before she had her psychotic break. The psychotic break is an extreme analogy to what life-threatening situations can happen to those suffering from this illness if they do not receive the necessary help.
The subtle development of this mental illness also highlights how unorthodox it was back then to acknowledge that a person could have something mentally askew. The Yellow Wall-Paper is an incredible piece of literature that converts flawlessly through time periods and societal development. Gilmans transformation of the narrator through the different symptoms of postpartum depression and foil of the husband ultimately lead to a psychotic break; not only concluding the narrative of the short stormy, but the narrative of the womens sane mind.
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