Finding Freedom in The Yellow Wallpaper

Finding Freedom in The Yellow Wallpaper

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Finding Freedom in "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman


"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a story of a woman with psychological difficulties whose husband's prescribed "treatment" of her mental illness sends her into insanity. The so-called treatment consists of the "Rest Cure" as developed by the notable Dr. Weir Mitchell, which includes complete bed rest, no work, and no emotional or physical stimulus - an enforced idleness of body, mind, and spirit. The husband, John, takes complete control of all decisions on behalf of his wife concerning her living arrangements, social encounters, and medical treatment. Her mental dysfunction is only exacerbated to the point of complete insanity by John's prescription of idleness and denial of mental stimulation.

The woman in the story wants to get well and makes several suggestions to John to help her in healing, however, John consistently refuses all of her requests and down-plays her illness. The woman in this story knows that she is not quite mentally well. She believes that she only suffers from "temporary nervous depression - a slight hysterical tendency." She believes that her "case is not serious!" The woman's husband, John, is a physician and does not really believe that she is ill. With all good intentions, he controls her life and makes all decisions. He believes that he always knows what is best for her, no matter what she wants or desires, or what she believes may help her to heal. Several times throughout the story the woman must rush to put away her writings before she is caught for John believes that she is given to flights of fancy and imagination and must rest her mind. John believes that his plan of treatment will cure her mild case of mental illness, no matter what she feels will help her to recover. He dismisses her suggestions as unimportant and trivial. His wife wanted to stay in the downstairs room where there were roses on the window and pretty curtains, but John decided that the upstairs bedroom was best for her, so that was where she stayed. When she told John that she did not believe that she was getting well in the old house and that she wanted to go home, he told her that they must stay the remainder of the three weeks. She wanted to visit with her Cousin Henry and Julia, and John would not allow her to visit for she would not be able to handle such a visit.

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The woman was forbidden to think and write at the direction of her husband, John. Every request she makes to John is denied. She begins to spiral downward into depression because of her loss of control of her life and denial of mental stimulation. John's misguided efforts to make her well with the "Rest Cure" method, constant control of her life, and removal from the things she enjoys only drive her into madness.

Initially in the story, she seems to be happy with the beauty of the old house and the outside surroundings, except that it feels ghostly and strange. She also seems to like her room, except that its paint and paper "look as if a boys' school had used it" and its "sprawling, flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin." The house is described as "The most beautiful place!" It has a "delicious garden" with "large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them." The room where John assigns her to living is a "big, airy room, the whole floor nearly, with windows that look all ways, and air and sunshine galore." The room was once a children's nursery and therefore has bars on the windows for the safety of the children. The very early descriptions lead one to believe that this temporary home is a place where the woman may become well with John's prescribed rest and relaxation, and that she may overcome her slight case of mental instability.

However, as the story moves on, the woman's attitude toward the room with the yellow wallpaper begins to revert to utter confusion, disgust, and hatred. The yellow wallpaper is "repellent, almost revolting: a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others." It also has a smell - a peculiar odor that creeps all over the house. It "is like the color of the paper! A yellow smell." She becomes "really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper." The wallpaper is stripped off in places with "sprawling, flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin." Because of her denial of emotional and mental stimulus, she begins to associate with a "strange, provoking, formless sort of figure that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design." She believes there are things and shapes behind the pattern in the wallpaper that only she can see. It appears to be the shape of a woman, or possibly many women. The wallpaper is in motion and she can see a faint figure behind the bars, shaking the pattern. The patterns seem to change by the amount of light on the wallpaper. By daylight, the woman-shapes are quiet and hardly noticeable. However, by moonlight "the woman behind it is as plain as can be." The woman or women behind the pattern move around the room fast, shaking the pattern as they go. She begins to believe that the woman gets out from behind the pattern. She knows this because she can see her out of the windows. The wallpaper constrains the woman or women and she believes that she must free those women by tearing off the wallpaper. She sees the women creeping "off in the open country, creeping as fast as a cloud shadow in a wind." She associates herself with the women and wonders "if they all came out of that wallpaper as I did?" On the last day, all of the furniture is moved back downstairs. She likes the room now. It is "bare again." She locks the bedroom door and creeps around the room just as those women. She has locked the door and thrown the key out the window. It has fallen under a plantain leaf. Her husband desperately tries to get into the room. She finally convinces him to get the key. Once he finally gets in, he faints upon the sight of his wife creeping along the wall.

At the end of the story, she was finally able to express herself, and John had no choice but to listen. She has finally gained control of her husband, instead of him controlling her. She is finally free!

 
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