The Yellow Wallpaper-Journey Into Insanity Essay, Research Paper
The Yellow Wallpaper – Journey Into Insanity In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, thedominant/submissive relationship between an oppressive husband and his submissive wifepushes her from depression into insanity. Flawed human nature seems to play a great rolein her breakdown. Her husband, a noted physician, is unwilling to admit that there mightreally be something wrong with his wife. This same attitude is seen in her brother, who is also a physician. While thisattitude, and the actions taken because of it, certainly contributed to her breakdown; itseems to me that there is a rebellious spirit in her. Perhaps unconsciously she seemsdetermined to prove them wrong. As the story begins, the woman-whose name we neverlearn-tells of her depression and how it is dismissed by her husband and brother. “You see,he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do? If a physician of high standing, andone’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matterwith one but temporary nervous depression-a slight hysterical tendency-what is one to do?”(Gilman 193). These two men-both doctors-seem completely unable to admit that there might bemore to her condition than than just stress and a slight nervous condition. Even when asummer in the country and weeks of bed-rest don’t help, her husband refuses to accept thatshe may have a real problem. Throughout the story there are examples of the dominantsubmissive relationship. She is virtually imprisoned in her bedroom, supposedly to allowher to rest and recover her health. She is forbidden to work, “So I . . . am absolutelyforbidden to “work” until I am well again.” (Gilman 193). She is not even supposed towrite: “There comes John, and I must put this away-he hates to have me write a word.”(Gilman 194). She has no say in the location or decor of the room she is virtuallyimprisoned in: “I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted . . . But John would not hear of it.”(Gilman 193). She can’t have visitors: “It is so discouraging not to have any advice andcompanionship about my work. . . but he says he would as soon put fireworks in mypillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.” (Gilman 196). Probably in large part because of her oppression, she continues to decline. “I don’tfeel as if it was worthwhile to turn my hand over for anything. . .”(Gilman 197). It seemsthat her husband is oblivious to her declining conditon, since he never admits she has areal problem until the end of the story-at which time he fainted. John could have obtainedcouncil from someone less personally involved in her case, but the only help he seeks was
for the house and baby. He obtains a nanny to watch over the children while he was awayat work each day: “It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby.” (Gilman 195). And hehad his sister Jennie take care of the house. “She is a perfect and enthusiastichousekeeper.” (Gilman 196). He does talk of taking her to an expert: “John says if I don’t pick up faster he shallsend me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.” But she took that as a threat since he was even moredomineering than her husband and brother. Not only does he fail to get her help, but bykeeping her virtually a prisoner in a room with nauseating wallpaper and very little tooccupy her mind, let alone offer any kind of mental stimulation, he almost forces her todwell on her problem. Prison is supposed to be depressing, and she is pretty close to beinga prisoner. Perhaps if she had been allowed to come and go and do as she pleased herdepression might have lifted: “I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write alittle it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.” (Gilman 195). It seems that justbeing able to tell someone how she really felt would have eased her depression, but Johnwon’t hear of it. The lack of an outlet caused the depression to worsen: “. . . I must saywhat I feel and think in some way-it is such a relief! But the effort is getting to be greaterthan the relief.” (Gilman 198). Meanwhile her reaction is to seek to prove him wrong.”John is a physician, and perhaps . . . perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.You see he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do?” (Gilman 193). It seems tome that while putting on an appearance of submission she was frequently rebellingagainst her husband’s orders. She writes when there is nobody around to see her, she triesto move her bed, but always keeps an eye open for someone comming. This is obviousthroughout the story. It also seems to me that, probably because of his oppressive behaviour, she wantsto drive her husband away. “John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases areserious. I am glad my case is not serious!” (Gilman 195). As her breakdown approachesshe actually locks him out of her room: “I have locked the door and thrown the key downinto the front path. I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want to have anybody come in, tillJohn comes. I want to astonish him.” (Gilman 203). I see no reason for this other than toforce him to see that he was wrong, and, since she knew he couldn’t tolerate hysteria, todrive him away.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” 1892. The New England Magazine.Reprinted in “Lives & Moments – An Introduction to Short Fiction” by Hans Ostrom.Hold, Orlando, FL 1991.