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Depiction of Women Treatment in Society in The Yellow Wallpaper

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Throughout history, women’s mental health conditions have universally been disregarded as trivial. Hysteria, the first female mental illness dating back to approximately 1900 BC Egypt, was originally attributed to the uterus wandering throughout the body. Women were generally confined to the household under Rest Care and told they were mentally unstable when they acted out of line from their expectations. In extreme cases, some women were sent to mental asylums and were subject to treatments such as lobotomization and electroconvulsive therapy. Today, these assumptions seem ridiculous, but when Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper”, it was commonplace belief that women could become ill or even insane from their female anatomy alone. These accepted methods of treatment by society validated the controlling and discrediting of women, which in turn helped create many of the problems they were trying to solve.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” was first published in 1892, a time when the understanding of mental illness was first beginning to modernize. Although not explicitly stated in the story, it can be inferred that the main character, Jane, is suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of her child, as well as general nervous anxiety about her marriage. Her husband, John, who is a physician, takes her away to an elaborate estate and confines her to her quarters, where he has forbidden her from working and prescribed some phosphates and tonics. Jane’s brother, who is also a physician in high standing, agrees with John’s method of treatments for her.

Through Jane’s internal narration, we begin to uncover the deeper story of abuse and degradation by John. Jane casually mentions through off-handed comments that John sometimes strikes her, and controls whom she can see/interact with. John also belittles her by calling her nicknames such as “little girl” or “silly goose”, then turns around and says that she needs to behave for the sake of himself and their child when she objects. John has also given her “a schedule prescription for each hour in the day” to adhere to. Jane maintains the belief that John treats her well, even though the anecdotal evidence presented tells a different story. These anecdotes portray John as a micromanaging, manipulative abuser by displaying common techniques such as gaslighting, isolation, and playing the victim.

As the story progresses further, we begin to see Jane’s descent into madness manifest, where she begins to display symptoms of what is colloquially known as Cabin Fever. While not an officially diagnosable disorder, its symptoms can consist of anxiety, restlessness, possessiveness, and feelings of claustrophobia; all feelings Jane experiences during her internal torment inside. Jane still longs for the freedom she initially desired, but her increasing fixation upon the wallpaper overwhelms her thoughts. John begins to worry about her obsession with the wallpaper, however he refuses to change the wallpaper for fear of giving in to her neurotic worries.

Gilman projects her real-life experiences into the story by having John threaten to send Jane to a physician named Weir Mitchell, who pioneered the treatment of Rest Care, which he subjected Gilman to while under his care. Through her story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Gilman condemned the widespread practice of prescribing this rest care treatment, in addition to the harmful and controlling treatment of women in general. “The Yellow Wallpaper” was written during a turbulent time in American history, in which women across the nation were standing up for themselves during the women’s suffrage movement. Gilman’s story and personal experiences projected what many women felt during this time in history: A desire for freedom, slowly clawing its way out from behind the Yellow Wallpaper of their minds. 

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Depiction Of Women Treatment In Society In The Yellow Wallpaper. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from
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