"The Yellow Wallpaper" the Downfall of a Young Woman
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"The Yellow Wallpaper" written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman might be called a diagnosis and treatment plan that forces a new mother from postpartum depression into postpartum psychosis (4woman.gov). When reading this short story, one must keep in mind that it was written during the latter part of the 19th century. Most physicians and psychiatrists at this time were men who did not take female issues as serious ones and tended to be insensitive to women. Charlotte Perkins Gilman is trying to inform the medical community that the treatment for depression at this time was not helping but hindering the recovery process and that the cure was worse than the disorder itself. "The Yellow Wallpaper" shows how the misdiagnosis and the mistreatment of various types of mental illness can dramatically change an individual.
An important part of the misdiagnosis is shown in the first part of "The Yellow Wallpaper." The main character (not named and referred to as the narrator) and her husband John are moving into a mansion because the narrator has a health issue. John is a physician and "You see he does not believe I am sick!" (Gilman 538). He believes that she is suffering from "temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency" (Gilman 538). It is also mentioned that she has a brother who is also a physician and agrees with John's diagnosis and treatment. These two men, both doctors, seem completely unable to admit that there might be more to her condition than just stress and a slight nervous condition. Today the narrator would probably be diagnosed with postpartum depression. To recover from a mental illness, the correct diagnosis is extremely important as to determine what treatment is necessary.
The treatment plan for the narrator's diagnosis during this time was called the rest cure. "John says if I don't pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall" (Gilman 541). This refers to Silas Weir Mitchell, an American physician, and neurologist who developed the treatment known as the rest cure. The rest cure, which was very popular at the time, included isolation and rest. His patients were on a controlled diet, were not allowed to see their families, read, write or otherwise strain themselves (Encyclopedia Britannica. 2004). John feels that all his wife needs is to follow the doctor's orders to get total rest, peace and quiet and not to do any work.