The Yellow Wallpaper


by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
 Journey Into Insanity
 In "The Yellow Wallpaper", by Charlotte Perkins Gilman,
the dominant/submissive relationship between an oppressive
husband and his submissive wife pushes her from depression
into insanity. Flawed human nature seems to play a great
role in her breakdown. Her husband, a noted physician, is
unwilling to admit that there might really be something
wrong with his wife. This same attitude is seen in her
brother, who is also a physician. While this attitude, and
the actions taken because of it, certainly contributed to
her breakdown; it seems to me that there is a rebellious
spirit in her. Perhaps unconsciously she seems determined
to prove them wrong. 

As the story begins, the woman, whose name we never learn,
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,
and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that
there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary
nervous depression-a slight hysterical * * * * * Roberts 2
tendency-what is one to do?" (Gilman 193). These two
men-both doctors-seem completely unable to admit that there
might be more to her condition than just stress and a
slight nervous condition. Even when a summer in the country
and weeks of bed-rest don't help, her husband refuses to
accept that she may have a real problem. Throughout the
story there are examples of the dominant submissive
relationship. She is virtually imprisoned in her bedroom,
supposedly to allow her to rest and recover her health. She
is forbidden to work, "So I . . . am absolutely forbidden
to "work" until I am well again." (Gilman 193). She is not
even supposed to write: "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
virtually imprisoned 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 and companionship about my work. . . but he says
he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-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't feel as if it was worthwhile
to turn my hand over for anything. . ." (Gilman 197). It
seems that her husband is oblivious to her declining
condition, since he never admits she has a real problem
until * * * * * Roberts 3 the end of the story-at which
time he fainted. John could have obtained council 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 away at work
each day: "It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby."
(Gilman 195). And he had his sister Jennie take care of the
house. "She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper."
(Gilman 196). He does talk of taking her to an expert:
"John says if I don't pick up faster he shall send me to
Weir Mitchell in the fall." But she took that as a threat
since he was even more domineering than her husband and
brother. Not only does he fail to get her help, but by
keeping her virtually a prisoner in a room with nauseating
wallpaper and very little to occupy her mind, let alone
offer any kind of mental stimulation, he almost forces her
to dwell on her problem. Prison is supposed to be
depressing, and she is pretty close to being a prisoner.
Perhaps if she had been allowed to come and go and do as
she pleased her depression might have lifted: "I think
sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little
it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me." (Gilman
195). It seems that just being able to tell someone how she
really felt would have eased her depression, but John won't
hear of it. The lack of an outlet caused the depression to
worsen: ". . . I must say what I feel and * * * * * Roberts
4 think in some way-it is such a relief! But the effort is
getting to be greater than 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 to me that while putting on an appearance of
submission she was frequently rebelling against her
husband's orders. She writes when there is nobody around to
see her, she tries to move her bed, but always keeps an eye
open for someone coming. This is obvious throughout the
story. It also seems to me that, probably because of his
oppressive behavior, she wants to drive her husband away.
"John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases
are serious. I am glad my case is not serious!" (Gilman
195). As her breakdown approaches she actually locks him
out of her room: "I have locked the door and thrown the key
down into the front path. I don't want to go out, and I
don't want to have anybody come in, till John comes. I want
to astonish him." (Gilman 203). I see no reason for this
other than to force him to see that he was wrong, and,
since she knew he couldn't tolerate hysteria, to drive him

Works Cited 

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. 


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