“Personally, I disagree with their ideas.” This opening statement from the female narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman; aggregate the point of the short story.
Gilman becomes enraged with the way that not only doctors, but society as an entity views women. The short story depicts the life of a woman who suffers from mental illness and therefore undergoes a ‘rest cure’. The very way it is written, makes the reader experience the narrators descent into madness. One of the key elements of the story is the causation of the worsening of her condition; the narrator ascribes to the way her husband suppresses her and locks her away from society, all while prohibiting her from writing. It is through the female narrator that Gilman’s personal disagreement with society’s expectations of women of the late 19th century comes through. The narrator herself suggests that the diagnosis itself, contributes to her own well being not getting any better.
The narrator is sent to the countryside after having given birth to her child to take the “rest cure”. This treatment is given to her by her doctor, to address her mental instability that is perceived upon her by the men in her life.”In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the diagnosis of hysteria or depression, conventional “women’s diseases” of the nineteenth century, sets in motion a therapeutic regimen which involves language in several way” (Treichler 61). The female narrator is placed in an isolated environment, confined to a small nursery room with yellow wallpaper and barred windows.
Furthermore, she is prohibited from engaging in normal social conversations, all to keep her from taking part in over-stimulating discussions, as it is such activities that the rest cure defines as being the causation of depression for women. While the phrase ‘rest cure’ is not explicitly mentioned in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the narrator does refer to the cure in great detail. John, her husband, is a physician who has diagnosed her for having “slight hysterical tendency”. In addition, the primary medical advise that she is given is to avoid work, social interactions or anything else that would be intellectually stimulating. This description greatly align with the very definition of the rest cure given by Doctor Silas Weir Mitchell, whom was not only Gilmans personal Doctor, but also the inventor and main advocate of the rest cure (Bassuk).
Throughout the nineteenth century, hysteria as a physiological disorder was not clearly understood and was incorrectly thought to primarily affect women. The rest cure was used from 1873 to 1925 and involved four main elements; bed rest, force-feeding, massage and electrical stimulation of the muscles (Bassuk), only one of which is directly featured in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, although Jennie does prepare all the meals for the narrator there is no mention of her also feeding her the meals. “The Yellow Wallpaper” explores the insanity as a result of this treatment. As the husband of the narrator, John also acts as the caretaker, allowing for him to constrain her physically and psychologically. As a character, John is directly linked with his willingness to enforce the rest cure on the narrator, as well as the correlation between his social status and his dismissive responses to her wishes and concerns regarding her diagnosis.
The narrator early on establishes that she does not agree with John’s diagnosis nor his treatment; “Personally, I disagree with their ideas.” Nonetheless, she is careful not to contradict John openly, as he is a ‘physician of high standing’, as is her brother who agrees with John. The narrator is aware that any family and friend will listen to their ‘expert’ evaluation, rather than her own personal opinion on the matter; something which clearly frustrates her as she says; “And what can one do?”