The Yellow Wallpaper

Identify what has driven the narrator to the brink of madness. How does she try to free herself from this element?

"The Yellow Wallpaper" Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Because of Gilman’s personal experience with the “rest cure,” it is not surprising that S. Weir Mitchell’s treatment plays a significant role in the context of the narrative. From the start of the story, the narrator is supposed to be suffering from neurasthenia, a disease that requires Weir Mitchell’s particular technique for nervousness. Yet, it is unclear if the narrator is actually ill, or if the “rest cure” treatment causes her to go insane. Gilman’s argument is that a treatment that requires complete inactivity is ultimately far more detrimental to a woman suffering from a minor anxiety disorder. Significantly, according to Gilman’s autobiography, she sent a copy of “The Yellow Wallpaper” to Weir Mitchell, and he subsequently changed his treatment for neurasthenia.

Beyond the “rest cure,” Gilman also criticizes any sort of medical treatment in which the personal opinion of the patient is not considered. Although the narrator repeatedly asks John to change the treatment over the course of the story, he refuses to acknowledge her requests, believing that he had total authority over the situation. This is also a reflection of the society conditions of the time, but either way, John abuses his power as both a husband and physician and forces the narrator to remain in an oppressive situation from which her only escape is insanity.