The Yellow Wallpaper Mental Illness Essay

The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story by American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The work was first published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine and is regarded as an important early work of American feminist literature, due to its depiction of a woman’s descent into mental illness. The story is written from the point of view of a woman who may be suffering from depression. The narrator, whose husband is a physician, has been prescribed “rest and relaxation” by her doctor after several months at home with a difficult pregnancy and recent childbirth.

The unnamed woman’s condition had begun to deteriorate during the weeks she spent caring for her child, and this deterioration continued as the neglectful and patronizing husband began shutting her away in different rooms (upstairs, downstairs, etc. ) and obsessively redecorating those rooms. The story mentions that he used to shut her up because he could not stand hearing about women’s rights. The only time the woman is allowed out of the bedroom where she is being kept is when she sees John, an unusually cheerful man whom her doctor has hired to cheer her up.

The doctor is certain that John’s visits will lift the woman’s spirits, though she finds his presence disturbing and his stories of Africa upsetting. The story implies that this mysterious “treatment” was recommended by the narrator’s doctor because he fears for her sanity. The woman in The Yellow Wallpaper begins to identify herself with the wallpaper she sees around her. The narrator describes how looking at the yellow wallpaper makes her feel as though there are crawling creatures all over her body, choking her until she can’t breathe, which is why she doesn’t try to get out of bed anymore.

As time goes on, the woman sees less and less of John but feels increasingly trapped by the pattern of the wallpaper, which is moving and constricting around her. The woman becomes obsessed with the pattern of the wallpaper and all that it represents (patterns and conformity). The narrator eventually begins to believe that there are women creeping on all sides of her, under the floor and behind the walls – she sees them as ghastly giants who only want to torture her. The woman’s mental state continues to degrade until she can no longer think straight; at this point she sees a man creeping out of the pattern on the wall…

The story ends with John coming back into town for a brief visit. The narrator feels hope again, feeling loved by him instead of despised like everyone else in her life. The woman goes downstairs for dinner with John; however, she is having a difficult time seeing him through the haze of her illness. The woman feels as though there are all sorts of creatures crawling on her skin and sees one crawling out from under the door. The woman begins to feel hunted by whatever it is she saw, so she locks herself in the bathroom.

The narrator loses track of time while sitting in the locked room, eventually becoming tired and falling asleep after a long while. When she wakes up, John is still with her! The story ends on a hopeful note: The woman has escaped whatever “creature” was coming after her while she slept. The next day John leaves again for his home country while The Yellow Wallpaper’s protagonist reflects on how much better she feels now that he is gone. The woman has made connections between her own life and the wallpaper, which she describes as having “taken possession of me,” making it impossible for her to escape.

The story ends with her resolving to tear down the hateful yellow paper immediately. The ending gives the reader some satisfaction because John leaves for Africa or who knows where, but also keeps The Yellow Wallpaper open-ended enough that readers are free to wonder what exactly happened next. Some readers argue that The Yellow Wallpaper should end with The Woman tearing down the walls herself after being locked in a room by John; others believe that this ending is too harsh given how much The Woman has deteriorated already.

It might have been better if The Woman had escaped whatever was following her, or if The Woman had taken the necessary steps to tear down the walls herself after regaining lucidity. It is not clear what The Woman’s final destination was in The Yellow Wallpaper, making it a very open-ended story about women’s rights and mental health. The original ending of The Yellow Wallpaper has been argued over for years: did the woman escape whatever was hunting her? Or did she succumb to it and go insane? The ambiguity of The Yellow Wallpaper allows readers to pick their own ending.

Readers might argue that John should have stayed with his wife because he would realize that he loves her more than Africa; others argue that The Man in The Yellow Wallpaper represents everything The Woman fears (her husband, the patriarchal society they live in), and The Woman destroys him by tearing down The Wallpaper. The original ending is open to interpretation – does The Woman escape whatever was hunting her? Or does The Woman succumb to it and go insane? The ambiguity of The Yellow Wallpaper allows readers to pick their own ending.

Mental health deserves as much attention as physical health; people with mental illness deserve as much compassion as those with physical illnesses or disabilities. The protagonist of The Yellow Wallpaper suffers from some sort of nervous disorder: John explicitly writes that she needs new air and sunshine, which suggests that her condition has something to do with poor ventilation (or a lack of sunshine). All we know about the woman’s mental state at the beginning of The Yellow Wallpaper comes from The Man and The Woman: The Man tells the reader that The Woman has “certain ideas” and The Woman thinks of herself as a prisoner.

The woman’s mental state becomes more apparent as the story progresses – she sees “creatures” on her skin and begins to feel hunted, eventually locking herself in a room. The protagonist of The Yellow Wallpaper suffers from some sort of mental disorder, which is never named specifically but is implied to be nervousness brought on by John’s absence. Mental illnesses deserve as much attention as physical illnesses; people with mental illness deserve as much compassion as those with physical disabilities or chronic diseases.

The woman’s mental state deteriorates throughout the story, suggesting that this poor woman should have been allowed to receive help for her mental illness instead of being sent off by her husband and subsequently locked in a room. The protagonist sees “creatures” on her skin (most likely imaginary) and feels that she is being hunted, which suggests that The Woman suffers from hallucinations brought on by stress or some other condition. The woman becomes convinced that The Wallpaper has claimed her; when The Man returns, The Woman is utterly deranged and psychologically damaged.

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