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Psychosis After Childbirth In Gilman

’s “Yellow Wallpaper” Essay, Research Paper

This story is set during the late 1800s. It is a bold representation of a woman s psychotic reaction after the birth of her child. Postpartum depression is still common today; a mild form of depression generally referred to as Baby Blues . This form of postpartum illness is usually temporary, but the more severe psychosis as experienced in the story by the main character is rare today because of the recognition and treatment currently available. The narrator intensely presents the symptoms of postpartum psychosis: confusion, fatigue, agitation, alterations in mood, feelings of hopelessness and shame, delusions or auditory hallucinations, hyperactivity and rapid speech or mania. This story should hold a place in every woman s heart that may be struggling during this perinatal period.

The narrator expresses early in the story that she is sick but that her husband and brother, who are both physicians, doubt her. Times do not change some perceptions and even today mental illness is not given the veracity that physical illness solicits. The narrator illustrates this insensitivity in her passage, If a physician of high standing, and one s own husband assures friends and relatives that there is nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression a slight hysterical tendency what is one to do? (334). This rationalization by the main character s husband/physician is uncertain; is it associated with the medical ignorance of the period or perhaps simply fret of social cynicism? The narrator desires, more society and stimulus (334). Presently, it is acknowledged that prolonged postpartum depression is closely linked to lack of social support. However, the narrator s attempt to convince her husband, John, and brother that, congenial work, with excitement and change (334) would aid her state was futile. The physician s route for rehabilitation was seclusion. John s motive again is suspicious.

The story shifts to the narrator s confinement. The narrator creates the sense of serenity as she introduces the retreat house, but her underlying skepticism is also evident as she writes, I am afraid, but I don t care – there is something strange about the house I can feel it (335). From the narrator s description of her bedroom, the windows are barred, the bed is nailed down, and there are rings and things in the walls, it can be reasonably concluded that she was committed to a sanitarium. She describes the focal wallpaper in her exile as foul-smelling and, almost revolting: a smouldering unclean yellow (335). The repulsive embellishment described may realistically be human bodily relief. The narrator s mind-set is at odds between the welfare of her baby and frustration that she is estranged from the infant. She states, It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous. (336). The separation of mother and child at such a critical bonding period may have been a contributing factor in deteriorating the narrator s good sense. Instead of rest and relief, the lack of intellectual conversation and social stimulation lead the narrator to lunacy.

In isolation, the narrator can only pore over the wallpaper that she despises so much. She describes the wallpaper as, One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin. (335). She announces, that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion. (338). Her deranged state envisions a woman behind the wallpaper that she feverishly tries to let loose. She writes, But nobody could climb through that pattern-it strangles so: (342). This delusion may actually be her desire to escape from her mental entrapment, to be released from the illness that is inhibiting her.

The narrator alludes to her suicidal state in a conversation with her husband,

Really dear you are better! Better in body perhaps- I began, and stopped short, for he sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word. My darling, said he, I beg of you, for my sake and for our child s sake, as well as for you own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! (340).

She manages to get a rope to her room and is able to lock the door. She states that she wants to astonish her husband when he arrives but is surprised when he faints at the sight of what he sees. From this portrayal and reaction, I ve got out at last (344) it is practical to conclude that she has taken her life. This story clearly has a negative outcome that can be attributed to the medical intervention of the time period that it was written. Postpartum illness is personal and complex however, medical and psychiatric treatment has advanced over time.