Gilman, Charlotte Perkins
|Keywords||Chronic Illness/Chronic Disease, Disease and Health, Family Relationships, Freedom, Human Worth, Hysteria, Illness and the Family, Individuality, Marital Discord, Mental Illness, Patient Experience, Power Relations, Suffering, Women's Health|
The narrator is confined to her bedroom in a summer house as part of the rest cure for her "nervousness." A nursemaid takes care of the baby. Her husband John is a physician who insists that she remain completely inactive, not even picking up a pen to write.
The bedroom was formerly a nursery. It has ugly yellow wallpaper with a recurring pattern that begins to obsess the narrator. Given her loneliness and lack of emotional support, she begins to see a woman confined in the pattern of the "repellent, almost revolting" wallpaper. Eventually she decompensates and has a complete emotional breakdown.
Gilman wrote this story (published in 1892) about five years after her own emotional breakdown, following the birth of her first child. She was diagnosed as neurasthenic and sent to S. (Silas) Weir Mitchell, who prescribed the "rest cure." (See Fat and Blood: An Essay on the Treatment of Certain Forms of Neurasthenia and Hysteria, which summarizes Mitchell's treatise on the subject.)
In this story the unnamed first-person narrator descends from neurasthenia into insanity during the course of her enforced rest (imprisonment) in a bedroom with yellow wallpaper. At first she speaks with a perky and optimistic voice, dwelling on the view from her room and the interesting associations she finds in the wallpaper's pattern. She has little or no emotional support. Her husband thinks that there is no reason for her to be suffering; it's just a case of "nerves."
As time goes on, she comes under the hallucinatory power of the figure in the wallpaper. Eventually the narrator decompensates to the point of crawling around the room on hands and knees, and stripping the paper, first with her hands, then with her teeth. Her husband faints when he comes in and sees her doing this.
|Source||The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings|
|Editors||Lynne Sharon Schwartz|
|Place Published||New York|
|Miscellaneous||First published: 1892|
|Annotated by||Coulehan, Jack|
|Date of Entry||01/03/94|