“The Yellow Wallpaper” written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was first published in The New England Magazine in 1892. It was directly influenced by Gilman’s personal encounter with a mental condition identified as postpartum psychosis, a rare condition that affects women approximately four weeks after childbirth. The disorder can display symptoms of depression, strange beliefs, hallucinations, paranoia, mood swings, inability to sleep and communication problems.
In Gilman’s occurrence, she was instructed by her doctor and husband to complete bed rest. She was forbidden to socialize and write. She believed the lack of physical and mental stimulation enhanced her condition.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” was a decline into madness by an upper middle-class Victorian woman, who chronicled her experiences through her undated journal entries. She described the house as a large and vacant rental in the country and the room she shared with her doctor/husband was formerly occupied as a nursery and gymnasium heavily scarred by the previous tenant’s overactive children and covered in hideous yellow wallpaper.
The story has multiple metaphors of chauvinistic Victorian society. The woman’s condition was not taken seriously, and expected to dissipate when she was well rested and undistracted. The cure was more suggestive than clinical. Her husband tried to persuade her she was improving, even if she was not aware of it. She was forced into seclusion and hid her journal of events because it was considered too imaginative for her good.
The wallpaper in the bedroom originally annoyed her. Everything about it was very unsettling, the way the sun and moonlight fell on it, the smell and the images she saw in it.
The wallpaper reminds the reader of something seen at a grandparent’s home or a tour of a historical home. It had a raised print design that depicted virtually nothing but color and motion. It invites anyone to sit and study the pattern, disturbed or sane, and inspired the imagination similar to psychological ink blots.
The reader also speculates that in the character’s boredom, she attempted to follow the bizarre pattern as a method to find mental relief apart from staring at grass blades and an occasional bird in flight, as prescribed by her doctor (husband).
The wallpaper was gradually accepted and symbolized a struggle for freedom. The patient and wallpaper paralleled one another, each to escape their environmental traps and experience expression.
Charlotte Gilman was an early Feminist. She understood the consequences of patriarchal society that suppressed women. She endured the abandonment of her father, an unwanted marriage, divorce and fears of motherhood. She addressed issues of mental disorders and the unproductive cures given by doctors of the time for the medical treatment of women.
She was quoted as saying, “It is not that women are really smaller-minded, weaker-minded, more timid and vacillating, but that whosoever, man or woman, lives always in a small, dark place is always guarded, protected, directed and restrained, will become inevitably, narrowed and weakened by it.”
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a reflective voyage in time when women were seen as incompetent managers of their own minds and spirits, and the Victorian medical practices were ineffectual in her treating her.