The unable to admit that there might
The Yellow Wallpaper – Journey into InsanityIn “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, thedominant/submissive relationship between an oppressive husband and hissubmissive wife pushes her from depression into insanity.Flawed human nature seems to play a great role in her breakdown. Herhusband, a noted physician, is unwilling to admit that there might really besomething wrong with his wife.
This same attitude is seen in her brother, whois 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 arebellious spirit in her. Perhaps unconsciously she seems determined to provethem wrong.As the story begins, the woman — whose name we never learn — tells of herdepression and how it is dismissed by her husband and brother.
“You see, hedoes not believe I am sick! And what can one do? If a physician of highstanding, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there isreally nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression — a slighthysterical tendency — what is one to do?” (Gilman 193). These two men — bothdoctors — seem completely unable to admit that there might be more to hercondition 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 toaccept that she may have a real problem.Throughout the story there are examples of the dominant – submissiverelationship. She is virtually imprisoned in her bedroom, supposedly to allowher to rest and recover her health.
She is forbidden to work, “So I . . . amabsolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again.” (Gilman 193).
She is noteven supposed to write: “There comes John, and I must put this away — he hatesto 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 nothear 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 inmy pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.
” (Gilman196).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 conditon,since he never admits she has a real problem until the end of the story — atwhich time he fainted.
John could have obtained council from someone less personally involved inher case, but the only help he seeks was for the house and baby. He obtains ananny to watch over the children while he was away at work each day: “It isfortunate Mary is so good with the baby.” (Gilman 195). And he had his sisterJennie 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 upfaster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.” But she took that as athreat 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 aprisoner 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 onher problem. Prison is supposed to be depressing, and she is pretty close tobeing a 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 wellenough 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 feltwould have eased her depression, but John won’t hear of it. The lack of anoutlet caused the depression to worsen: “. . .
I must say what I feel and thinkin 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 seehe does not believe I am sick! And what can one do?” (Gilman 193). It seemsto me that while putting on an appearance of submission she was frequentlyrebelling against her husband’s orders. She writes when there is nobody aroundto see her, she tries to move her bed, but always keeps an eye open for someonecomming. This is obvious throughout the story.It also seems to me that, probably because of his oppressive behaviour, shewants to drive her husband away.
“John is away all day, and even some nightswhen 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 havelocked the door and thrown the key down into the front path. I don’t want to goout, and I don’t want to have anybody come in, till John comes. I want toastonish him.
” (Gilman 203). I see no reason for this other than to force himto see that he was wrong, and, since she knew he couldn’t tolerate hysteria, todrive him away.Works CitedGilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” 1892.The New England Magazine.
Reprinted in “Lives &”Moments – An Introduction to Short Fiction” by HansOstrom. Hold, Orlando, FL 1991.