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Throughout history people have always seemed to follow what notions that were considered "cool". Though I doubt that "cool" was the word used to describe these notions they were still there in some form or another. One of the greatest farces ever committed in the name of these popular perceptions was medicine. At that time, medicine that was on the cutting edge seem to have always involved some sort of noxious chemical or a typically atrocious diet. Not to mention the fact that ninety-nine percent of the doctors were men. Women's notions were immediately discounted on the bases of the preconception that women were not meant for such enlightened thoughts. No, men really knew what was best and women were meant to stand by what their husbands' said. This brings one particular husband to mind and how he was responsible for his wife going completely and utterly insane. His name is John and he is the husband to a woman who was diagnosed with a temporary nervous depression, meaning a slight hysterical tendency.
Through John's interference he turned what was considered a minor case of a chemical imbalance into to full blown schizophrenia. During the turn of the century, which is when this story took place, what scientists knew of the human mind wouldn't fill the inside of a matchbook. This was for certain the case when it was a woman who was the patient. If there was any deviation in the accepted behavior of a woman as deemed by society, the woman was considered hysterical. When dealing with these patients, instead of seriously considering the consequences of their actions, they went along with obscenely stupid notions on how to deal with problems of the mind.
The conventional course of action to take in the narrator's case was the one of nothing. I mean literally, nothing. For the narrator was considered hysterical and slightly depressed and there was only one course of action for such symptoms. That was one of complete rest. In those days the rest cure was very popular. It involved being set apart from anything that might have even the remotest possibility of stress in it. The main character of The Yellow Wallpaper was indeed set apart from all activity as directed by her husband. John dutifully followed the set path, not questioning any of the accepted methods.
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Though she believes "it is only nervousness," she does feel that, "It does weigh on one so not to do no duty in any way." However, she cannot bring herself to openly objecting to convention. In face of her solitude she has only one pastime, which is obsessing over the hideous wallpaper in her room. She describes it quite well when she says, "The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing. You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well under way in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream. The outside pattern is a florid arabesque, reminding one a fungus. If you can imagine a toadstool in joints an interminable string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless convolutions-why, that is something like it." I would imagine that would not be considered an appropriate way to pass the time.
In fact it is probably the worst thing to be giving an unstable mind a teasingly, unstable object to focus upon. John does not give any thought to this, but, of course he is the doctor and he thinks he knows best. But then why doesn't his cure work? The narrator seems to be getting worse, not better. Someone who had the slightest bit of common sense probably would have thought that this cure was not right in this case and try a different approach. John, however, thought otherwise and kept with the rest cure, making her take, "cod liver oil and lots of tonics and things, to say nothing of ale and wine and rare meat."
I suppose at the time nutrition was not thought of as highly important as it is today and therefore people lacked the lacked the knowledge of how meat should be properly cooked and while one glass of wine a day may be healthy, ale was certainly not a dietary need. In fact, just a room change might have been the right change to make in her life. She goes on about her room with, "I don't like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened onto the piazza and had roses all over the window, and suck pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings! But John would not hear of it." It seems that John was being a bit stuborn on the subject, probably just out of self-centeredness. He is not the one who spent most of their time in that room. Then again, he might not be doing this to the narrator out of stubbornness. He might simply not know what his wife's condition is. She tries hard to not show her suffering when he is there. Which isn't often. John seems to have neglected his wife a great deal.
In the story, he comes across as always being absent on trips to see other patients. He apparently truly thought that this rest cure was sufficient and that he did not need to spend time with his wife. But even if he is gone a lot, there is no excuse for missing the dire symptoms his wife was showing. She may have been trying to hide her misery, but he, her spouse, should still have been able to spot it. Unfortunately, her symptoms went unnoticed and untreated. At least properly, that is, unless you consider the rest cure to be appropriate. I find John in fault for this. He was her physician and her husband. Yet he didn't have enough sense to see how his wife was suffering.
Instead of treating his wife as his wife and not another patient, he would have noticed how wrong the conventional ideas were and done something that would actually help his wife. Everything he did was based on what other doctors thought. He did not try to go against what is, and always shall be, the most ludicrous way of treating the mentally ill. Because of his incompetence, he left his wife in a room with an obsession that proved to be too much. What was a treatable, mild case of mental disorder became complete insanity. All this was done at his hands and no amount of washing could ever cleanse them of his wrongdoing.