Insanity in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Stetson
Insanity and depression can be considered the cornerstones of The Yellow Wallpaper. The story starts with a woman, the narrator, who has recently moved with his husband to a big rented house while theirs is being repaired. From the beginning, the narrator states she has not been feeling quite well, and her husband, a physician, does not believe there is a problem with her (Stetson 647). To him, his wife’s problem is caused by a “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency.” (648). Hence, he prescribed rest and little to none physical exercise. This is the first clue we receive regarding the narrators psychical state. She is clearly distressed, and those so-called hysterical tendencies can be much more, probably a sign of depression. However, at that point, it would be impossible to consider her insane. On the contrary, she seems distressed, and the lack of movement, along with the nature of her accommodation slowly worsens her condition. Likewise, throughout the story, the room’s yellow wallpaper becomes an object of her obsession, fueling her fantasies and hallucinations. In the midst of her hallucinations, she can even see the wallpaper moving, as if someone did it, and she begins investigating it. “I have discovered something at last. Through watching so much at night, when it changes so, I have finally found out. The front pattern does move – and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!” (654). It is then when the woman’s descent to madness becomes patent; as, what started as a mild depression becomes something more, something that clouds the narrator’s judgment, rendering her unable to think straight. Consequently, this situation would be enough to consider the woman unfit and unable to pass judgment over her life; however, we could say that the ineptitude of her caregivers is another reason to take into consideration when thinking of the narrator’s mental state. Her husband and all the people surrounding her treat her as a handicapped, which degrades her psyche, hindering her choices and confining her to a room.
On the other hand, regarding the trustworthiness of the narrator; it is unlikely that the story, written in the form of a diary, is false. First, the story looks like a recount in the first-person form. Second, given the writer’s encounters with depression, it is possible that the only fictional elements in the story are the setting and certain characters. Conversely, the narrator is part of the author’s experiences and struggles with the depression. Hence, it would be unnecessary to manipulate the truth to fit a standard. Likewise, the woman’s suffering through the story does not seem fake, as her descent to madness seems real, as if her mind were disintegrating with each line. Ultimately, The Yellow Wallpaper is an expression of the author’s self. Through the exploration of the narrator’s emotions, Gilman explores her depression and the difficulties women had to be noticed and taken into account to treat their illnesses accordingly, bolstering their creativity. Thus, the narrator is the author but disguised in the figure of another woman. For this reason, the narrator’s feelings are those of the author, turning the story into a deep insight on the life of the writer instead of being just a fiction story. The narrator is what the author could have become, it is an if, a possibility of how things could have turned had the author taken a different course of action.
Stetson, C.P. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 1 June 2015. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/literatureofprescription/exhibitionAssets/digitalDocs/The-Yellow-Wall-Paper.pdf