The medical community in the past did not adequately recognize postpartum depression, and this problem was presented in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” It was a short story about a woman who recently gave birth to a child and developed psychiatric issues. She lived in a mansion rented by her husband, John, a respected physician. He diagnosed his wife with a temporary nervous depression, treated her with medications, and prohibited the protagonist from physical or intellectual work (Perkins Gilman 648). The main character was secretly writing about her condition and emotions in a diary. As the woman noticed patterns on the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom, she also developed hallucinations. The story ended with the protagonist peeling off the yellow wallpaper to free a woman she hallucinated about. John fainted, seeing this scene of his wife creeping and repeating, “I’ve got out at last” (Perkins Gilman 656). The central conflict that appeared between the main character and her husband was resolved when the woman reached the pinnacle of her mental disease and destroyed John’s reasoning.
The narrator appears to be a depressed frail woman living with her husband, infant child, and sister-in-law, but who is not allowed to work. Still, the woman continues to write about her life and the emotional issues that she developed after marriage and childbirth. The protagonist strives to express love and gratitude to her husband for taking care of her. At the same time, she disagrees with his diagnosis and treatment approach, claiming that her disease is more complex and requires social interaction. The protagonist believes that “congenial work, with excitement and change,” can help improve her mental state (Perkins Gilman 648). Still, she is forced to stay in “the patriarchal prison,” where only her “imaginative power” is free (Jamil 4). Overall, the lack of a job, absence of household duties, inability to look after her child, and medications seem to contribute to the woman’s worsening of her condition because she develops delusions and hallucinations.
The main character revealed her conflict with John and the societal norms in her writings. In fact, it is believed that this story partly reflected Perkins Gilman’s own life because she was also not allowed to write and be independent (Manzoor et al. 1060). The author shows this conflict that she herself had in the protagonist’s story. Although the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” tries to obey the rules that her husband established, she continues writing to track her thought process. The Ineffectiveness of John’s prescription can be observed since he states that “your exercise depends on your strength,” and asks his wife not to lose power, prohibiting her from any work or exercise (Perkins Gilman 648). It is a counterintuitive statement because a person needs to be physically active not to lose muscle strength. The conflict between the narrator and her surroundings results in the woman focusing on patterns in the wallpaper, leading to false perceptions and hallucinations. She was able to destroy John’s reasoning about her condition and metaphorically free herself from societal pressure, but it, unfortunately, happened in an unhealthy way for her mind.
In summary, Charlotte Perkins’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” was a story about the conflict between women who wanted to be active citizens and a patriarchal society. The narrator is a woman with postpartum depression whose condition is not correctly recognized by her husband. She seems to suffer from the lack of occupation and develops obsession and hallucinations about patterns on the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom. Overall, this story seems to be an allegory for women of that time wanting to work and create instead of just being housewives and the masculine world that prohibited them from becoming equal to men.
Jamil, Selina. “Imaginative Power in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews, 2021, pp. 1-7.
Manzoor, M. Mohsin, et al. “The Yellow Wallpaper: A Psychoanalytical Parallelism Between Character and Author.” PalArch’s Journal of Archaeology of Egypt/Egyptology, vol. 19, no. 1, 2022, pp. 1059-1068.
Perkins Gilman, Charlotte. The Yellow Wallpaper. Gothic Digital Series, 1892.