Yellow Wallpaper By Charlotte Gilman In The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the unnamed protagonist is suffering from postpartum depression, which is caused by the rapid changes in levels of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and thyroid due to the birth of a child. This depression can be brought on by stress and isolation right after birth. In this short story the protagonist was brushed of by her husband John, who is a medical doctor as having a temporary nervous condition. In this situation, if the protagonist was effectively treated instead of being isolated, which allowed the depression to escalate to a severe form, she would have steadily gotten better. Instead the protagonist began to develop postpartum psychosis, which is the most severe postpartum reaction.
During this time woman will experience a break with reality which may include the experience of hallucinations and/or delusions. Other symptoms may include severe insomnia, agitation, and bizarre feelings and behavior (Depression After Delivery, Inc. 3). The Yellow Wallpaper takes place in the late eighteen hundreds when psychological disorders were dismissed as temporary nervous conditions, and unless there was something physically wrong with the person, the individual had to be isolated from any stimulating activities. Isolation seemed to be the best antidote for psychological disorders in the late eighteen hundreds, although, it only made the disorder worse.
John only worsens his wifes disorder by taking her away for the summer and placing her in an old house that is quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village (Barrett 193). John once again isolates his wife from any stimulating activities and forbids her to work..and am absolutely forbidden to work until I am well again (Barrett 192). The protagonist personally disagrees with their ideas when she states, that congenial work, with excitement and change would do me good (Barrett 192). John did not allow her to write either, although, [she] did write for a while in spite of them (Barrett 193), but she did not dare let John or his sister Jennie catch her writing. One of the first symptoms of postpartum psychosis is the experience of hallucinations, which are sensory perceptual distortions, such as seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling or tasting sensations that others would not sense and do not exist outside of ones perception (Depression After Delivery, Inc.
3) and delusions, which are false fixed beliefs. The protagonist begins to get hallucinations/delusions when she unwillingly accepts the upstairs nursery instead of the downstairs room that opened into a piazza and had roses all over the window. She illustrates this by saying, But John would not hear of it. He said there was only one window and not room for two beds, and no near room for him if he took another (Barrett 193). Once situated in the room she develops a fixation for the yellow wallpaper.
The protagonist begins to follow the pattern about by the hour. She starts at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless patter to some sort of conclusion (Barrett 197). Finally, from being in that room so long she begins the hallucinations. This is noticed when the protagonist points out that the front pattern does move-and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over. Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard. And she is all the time trying to climb through.
But nobody could climb through that pattern-it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads. Then the protagonist continues by saying, I think that woman gets out in the daytime! And Ill tell you why-privately-Ive seen her! (Barrett 202) As these hallucinations are going on the protagonist keeps these emotions bottled-up and doesnt allow anyone to be aware that she is having them. Another symptom that the protagonist has is severe insomnia, which is difficulty in initiating or maintaining sleep. She shows her inability to sleep when she says, he thought I was asleep first, but I wasnt, and lay there for hours trying to decide whether that front pattern and the back pattern really did move together or separately (Barrett 199). The protagonist consistently stays awake at night staring at the wallpaper pattern on the wall.
John then sees the need for his wife to sleep more, so he makes her lie down an hour after each meal. The protagonist feels this is a very bad habit when she says, It is a very bad habit, I am convinced, for you see, I dont sleep (Barrett 200). The protagonist doesnt sleep well at night either, due to her growing fixation with the wallpaper.. I dont sleep much at night, for it is so interesting to watch developments (Barrett 200). The third symptom that the protagonist is suffering from is agitation, which are feelings that often excite or trouble ones mind.
The protagonist seems to become angry with her husband John very often now, although, he has not done anything wrong to agitate his wife. I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. Im sure I never use to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition. But John says if I feel so I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself-before him, at least, and that makes me very tired.
(Barrett 193) The protagonist starts to become agitated with the yellow wallpaper as she continues to stare at the wall. I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd unblinking eyes are everywhere (Barrett 195). The protagonist also demonstrates bizarre (strikingly out of the ordinary) feelings and behavior. She illustrates this behavior by constant crying for no apparent reason.
I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time (Barrett 196). The wallpaper seems to continuously dwell her mind, which is bizarre in itself, because no one should by obsessed over nonsense things like wallpaper. It dwells my mind so (Barrett 196)! The protagonist also starts to become unusually weak.. half the time now I am awfully lazy, and lie down ever so much (Barrett 197). She continued to demonstrate her bizarre behavior when she said, this bed will not move! I tried to lift and push it until I was lame, and then I got so angry I bit off a little piece at one corner-but it hurt my teeth (Barrett 203).
She even contemplates jumping out of the window.. I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be and admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try (Barrett 204). Towards the end of the story the protagonist reaches complete mental instability. At this point the protagonist has reached the worst part of her disorder. She presents this instability when she says, I wonder if they come out of the wallpaper as I did (Barrett 204). At this time she is confusing reality with her imagination.
I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard (Barrett 204)! The main reason of this statement isnt just her madness, but it is how she feels. The protagonist feels that she can be herself during the day when John is not around, but at night she has to pretend to be a totally different person. At the end of the story John and Jennie become aware of what is going on with her. What is the matter? he cried. For Gods sake, what are you doing! I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder. Ive got out at last said I, In spite of you and Jane.
And Ive pulled off most of the paper, so you cant put me back! No way should the man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall so that I had to creep over him every time! (Barrrett 204) Throughout The Yellow Wallpaper, Gilman makes it evident that the protagonist is suffering from some type of postpartum reaction, that has been left untreated by her husband. She was able to vividly portray a womans descent into madness, due to her own fit with a similar disorder. Gilman wrote the story to effect change in the treatment of depressive women. She once stated It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy (Barrett 185). Bibliography Barrett, Eileen and Mary Cullinan, ed. American Women Writers: Diverse Voices In Prose Since 1845.
New York: St. Martins. 1992. Depression After Delivery, Inc. Depression After Delivery. Belle Mead, New Jersey.