The Yellow Wallpaper Response



In The Yellow Wallpaper, originally published in 1899, Charlotte Gilman presents the internal dialogue of a woman diagnosed with “hysteria” and for whom total rest has been prescribed. In the short story, the patient is slowly driven mad by her cure, prescribed by her physician husband, and is cut off from any intellectual pursuits whatsoever. The misdiagnosis of depression and anxiety leads the woman on a downward spiral that eventually causes her to perceive the yellow wallpaper in her room as a projection of herself. The woman is eventually able to regain self-empowerment by tearing down her barriers, in the form of the wallpaper in her room.


The narrator initiates the story by describing a beautiful, but prison-like house, run by the protagonist’s husband that both realistically and symbolically confines his wife. The husband keeps his wife incommodious for two probable reasons. First, the husband was a physician and despite his good intentions, ignorantly prescribed the worst treatment imaginable for depression, inactivity. Second, most likely due to society at the time, the man arrogantly perpetuates an ideological prison that subjects and silences his wife. The husband prescribes a remedy for his wife, a woman, which he would not also recommend for a man. Because the doctor’s decision was based on no physiological or proven psychological difference between man and woman, the doctor’s rational is not merely medical, but sexist. Society supported the sexist idea that did not believe a woman should enjoy creative expression, mental stimulus, or access to things that fulfill her. These beliefs influenced the husband’s decision to confine his wife physically which also lead to her psychologically imprisonment.


Further evidence of John’s sexist and psychological ignorance reveals itself when he refers to his wife as “little girl” and repeatedly coos such phrases as “blessed little goose” or “bless her little heart” when speaking to her. (Gilman 23) These alleged terms of endearment tap into what the famous psychologist Thomas A. Harris would refer to as, her “Not OK child.” Harris explains these terms in his book, I\'m OK You\'re OK, based on Eric Burne\'s ideas called Transactional Analysis. Harris explores in depth what he calls \'life positions\'. At some stage early in our lives we adopt a "position" about ourselves that very significantly determines how we feel about ourselves, particularly in relation to other people. Harris used Berne’s work as a basis for his own, focused on the internal voices that speak to us all the time in the form of archetypal characters: the Parent, the Adult and the Child (the PAC framework). All of us have Parent, Adult or Child ‘data’ guiding our thoughts and decisions, and Harris believed that transactional analysis would free up the Adult, the reasoning voice. The Adult in us prevents a hijack by unthinking obedience (Child), or ingrained habit or prejudice (Parent), leaving us a vestige of free will. John clearly hijacks his wife’s “Child” and leaves her dependent and obedient. John’s ignorance of psychology does not enable him to realize that he is being sexist and harmful to his wife.


One can see at the beginning of the book that the woman is not too far gone. Her first impression is of the ugly wallpaper; she has “never seen a worse paper in [her] life” (Gilman 18). Almost immediately; however, she begins to project herself onto the wallpaper, describing the pattern’s “lame uncertain curves” that “suddenly commit suicide—plunge[ing] off at outrageous angles; destroy[ing] themselves in unheard-of contradictions” (Gilman 18-19). It is the woman herself who feels lame and uncertain, fears suicide, and fears that she herself will suddenly plunge off at some outrageous angle; all of which are symptoms of depression. Her self-control is still intact, but like the wallpaper, disturbing patches show through. She states she is trying to follow “that pointless pattern to some kind of conclusion (21). Obviously, she is trying to find some sort of pattern and reach some kind of conclusion about her own life. She eventually notes that the “dim shapes” skulking behind the overlaying pattern are getting clearer; they have begun to resemble a woman, stooping down and creeping. The protagonist and the woman in the wallpaper are identical; the woman in the wallpaper is a projection of herself. At the end,