Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s "The Yellow Wall-Paper," does more than just tell the story of a woman who suffers at the hands of 19th century quack medicine. Gilman created a protagonist with real emotions and a real psych that can be examined and analyzed in the context of modern psychology. In fact, to understand the psychology of the unnamed protagonist is to be well on the way to understanding the story itself. "The Yellow Wall-Paper," written in first-person narrative, charts the psychological state of the protagonist as she slowly deteriorates into schizophrenia (a disintegration of the personality).
Schizophrenia manifests itself through a number of symptoms. One of the first symptoms that the narrator in "The Yellow Wall-Paper" exhibits is thought disorder. Thought disorder can range in severity anywhere from a vague muddiness of thinking to a total breakdown of mental processes. The first real hint that the protagonist is having trouble controlling her mental faculties is when she says, "I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes . . . I take pains to control myself — before him, at least, and that makes me very tired" (Gilman 426). Her mental state is again revealed a few pages later when she states, "It is getting to be a great effort for me to think straight" (Gilman 430).
Related to thought disorder is obsession, which the protagonist displays in her relentless thoughts about the yellow wallpaper which covers her bedroom walls. The narrator begins her obsession with the yellow wallpaper from the very beginning of the story. "I never saw a worse paper in my life," she says. "It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irri...
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...press her, she had to discard the personality that was meek and mild. It is quite possible within the realm of psychological theory that the stress of childbirth, coupled with post-partum depression and the mental strain of having to repress her emotions triggered the schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is the perfect choice because it explains why the protagonist behaves the way she does. At the same time, it shows the problems that occur when a person is oppressed for so long, and also frees the narrator from the bonds of a personality that did not allow her to express herself as a human being.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wall-Paper." Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Stories. 4th ed. ed. James H. Pickering. New York: MacMillan, 1985. 426-34.
Kristal, Leonard, ed. The ABC of Psychology. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1982.
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