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The Yellow Wallpaper

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a story of a woman who suffered from serious depression and fatigue shortly after giving birth to her daughter. Instead of being cured, the wife/protagonist suffered even more while being treated by a specialist who prescribed her with a supposed cure that even worsened her condition. It is about the conventional role of women as subordinates in the nineteenth century middle-class marriage. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote her personal story in an exaggerated approach, with the story’s protagonist at the point of total madness.

The specialist referred to was Silas Weir Mitchell, famous in his field of curing women with nervous disorders in the nineteenth century. Mitchell diagnosed Gilman with neurasthenia brought by overactive nerves resulting in nervous depression. He prescribed Gilman a “rest cure” of forced inactivity, forbidding her to even write for the rest of her life, in order to calm her frantic nerves and domesticate her. Although Gilman tried to endure it and refrain from writing for about three months, she noticed herself gradually on the verge of insanity.

There was even a time that she crawled under her bed playing with a rag doll. Fortunately, she maintained consciousness unlike the protagonist in her story ended in total madness. Before her condition becomes worst, Gilman decided to leave to California and underwent self-treatment. Despite her success, Gilman believed to suffer from post-traumatic stress from Mitchell’s treatment throughout her lifetime. Written in 1890, The Yellow Wallpaper was an effort to save other women from suffering the same oppressive treatment as that of Mitchell.

Significantly, the story is effective in highlighting women’s role and position in the institution of marriage. Specifically, it emphasizes women as second-class citizens with the distinction between the “domestic” functions of the female and the “active” work of the male. This gender division leaves women in a childish state and ignorance eventually depriving them of full development. In the story, John is motivated by his superiority often misjudge and dominate his wife.

This authoritarianism over his wife gave a key role to Mitchell and his treatment when John threatens to send his wife to the specialist if she does not recover soon. The story is important in weighing arguments regarding the status of women in the society to realize how husband or men in general treat or should treat their wives or women as having equal rights as a person. Likewise, self-expression is important to both gender and lack of such is the ultimate factor to insanity. According to Gilman, a mind that is kept in a state of forced inactivity is doomed to self-destruction.

(Gilman, 1913) In the story, the wife is forced to hide her anxieties and fears to maintain a happy marriage and to pretend that she is recovering. She is forced to silence and idleness. Self-expression is a form of an emotional and intellectual outlet that brings relief to the mind, which the narrator struggles to have secretly. What is important at this point is that husband must also be sensitive to the feeling of his wife, give her the chance to express herself to maintain openness and harmony as self-expression is an equal right to both.

Also, the story serves as a warning to women against oppressive and abusive treatment disguising as cure, not only to depression but to any health conditions. Gilman structured her story as an attack to the ineffective and cruel course of treatment, and any form of medical care that ignores the welfare of the patient. In effect, Mitchell abandoned his prescription of the “resting cure” moved by Gilman’s criticism. The lesson of the story is clear and applies to mankind in general.

Both forms of authorities, marital (husband and wife) and medical (doctor and patient), can be easily abused, even when the purpose (of the husband or the doctor) is to help. The worst result is that women, who happen to be the silent subjects, in their fragility are weakened even more. References Gilman, C. P. (1899) The Yellow Wallpaper, Small & Maynard: Boston, MA. Gilman, C. P. “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper” (1913) Retrieved 15 May 2010 from <http://www. library. csi. cuny. edu/dept/history/… /wallpaper. html >

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