Insanity in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Insanity in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Insanity in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman


In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," a nervous wife, an overprotective husband, and a large, dank room covered in musty wallpaper all play important parts in driving the wife insane. The husband's smothering attention, combined with the isolated environment, incites the nervous nature of the wife, causing her to plunge into insanity to the point she sees herself in the wallpaper. The author's masterful use of not only the setting (of both time and place), but also of first person point of view, allows the reader to participate in the woman's growing insanity.

In eighteen ninety - one, when the "The Yellow Wallpaper" was written, women were often treated as second - class citizens. They were, for the most part, dominated by a society controlled by men. The men were the leaders, ruling the home and the workplace; the women were under their authority. The wife, of whom this story is about, reflects this attitude society has towards her. Her husband even decides what furniture and things are to be in her room. She submits to those decisions, even to the point of agreeing with him. This is evidenced when she says, "But he is right enough about the beds and windows and things……I would not be so silly as to make him uncomfortable just for a whim"(472). Wives like this were regarded as possessions of the husbands, and, in light of that, they had few rights. Just as was the wife, many women were believed to be good only for bearing children and running a household. Often times the husband retained a housekeeper or some such servant so the wives only bore children and did little else. In the case of the wife in our story, her husband, John, ...


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...ond, if the story were narrated by the housekeeper, Jane, the reader might be given a hint that the wife was going mad, but her state of mind would be uncertain until the end. In either character's case, the wallpaper would hold little significance to him or her.

In seeing the story through the wife's eyes, we can see that her mental illness in "The Yellow Wallpaper" is inevitable. Between society's view of women at that time, the husband's attitude towards her, and his ineffective remedies, the wife's mental instability can only grow worse. The wallpaper lets the reader follow the woman's regression into insanity as the story progresses. Only with the first person point of view (the wife's) can the reader follow this regression of the mind. All in all, this is a sad story of a woman's struggle for sanity in an indifferent society.

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