Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote the Yellow Wallpaper in 1891. For many years she had suffered from severe and continuous nervous breakdown. She found that doctors and specialist were unsympathetic and they warned her never to write again. However, with the help of a friend she disregarded the doctor’s advice and began to write again. She slowly began to live a normal life again and regained some power and control over her own life. The story is an account of a middle class, nineteenth century woman and her struggle with mental illness. She is intelligent and likes to write.
She craves intellectual company and stimulation. However, her husband, who is a doctor, advises complete bed rest and has forbidden her to write. A first person narrator tells the story. It is written in the style of her diary, which gives the reader an intimate glimpse into her mind. This enables the reader to trace her decline into insanity. In the first entry the narrator describes the house with mixed feelings. On the one hand, she compliments the house and calls it “The most beautiful place” with a “delicious garden” (p128) but then she seems apprehensive.
She dismisses the thoughts that the house may be “haunted” but she still feels that there is “something queer about it. ” Perhaps she lays aside her trepidation, as she is afraid of her husband’s ridicule. “John laughs at me of course” (p139) She ends this first entry with a hasty and worried warning about being caught writing by her husband. The second entry has leapt forward in time by two weeks and we are aware of the deterioration of her health. The first part of this entry is erratic as she takes pains to describe her illness.
She feels guilty for being incapable as, “It does weigh on me not to do my duty in anyway” She has begun to imagine the wallpaper as a malignant force and has attached to it human attributes. “I always fancy… absurd blinking eyes are everywhere. ” (P132) Further evidence of her diminishing mental health is that she now can see a figure behind the design in the wallpaper. Once again this entry ends abruptly as Jennie approaches. This reflects her paranoia of her husband and his sister. The third entry has again leapt forward in time, as has the decline of the narrator’s state of mind.
She no longer seems in control of her emotions “I cry all the time now”. She is now spending much of her time alone in the nursery and she is completely obsessed with the wallpaper. “I’m getting really fond…. Perhaps because of the wallpaper” ” It dwells on my mind so”(p134) She feels a desperate need to express her irrational feelings, but feels unable to speak to her husband. The reader can sense her unconscious cry for help as she says “I wish John would take me away from here” and because her husband has dismissed her plea as a “false and foolish fancy”, her last grasp on sanity is released and she is plunged into utter madness.
By the close of this entry not only is her lunacy apparent but she also harbours an irrational paranoia of her husband and Jennie. She imagines they are scheming and studying the pattern on the wallpaper “I have watched john… looking at the paper” and “I caught Jennie with her hand on it once” (p138) The climax is built in the forth and fifth entries and by the final entry she is completely insane. The last entries begin with a deranged excitement. “Hurrah! ” (P141) The emphasis on her health has changed. She is no longer sluggish and tired all the time.
She seems triumphant and now looks forward to her days alone. “Life is much more exciting now…. I have something to look forward to” (p138) She is engrossed in the wallpaper and has resolved to remove it to release the trapped “creeping woman” She has completely withdrawn into her own madness and no longer trust her husband or Jennie “I don’t like the look in his eyes” In the final entry, the narrator has completely lost her sense of reality. She does not wish to leave the room and is over protective of the wallpaper.
So much so that she is willing to kill. “… No person touches this paper but me – not alive”(p141) She briefly considers suicide, but dismisses the idea as “improper” In her madness she has begun to repeatedly “creep” around the room and imagines herself as the creeping woman “I suppose I shall have to get behind the pattern… “(p141) When her husband tries to enter the room he finds she has locked the door. When he is finally able to enter he is so shocked by her appearance that he faints. The narrator seems to have two distinct and contradictory voices.
The first example of these dual voices is “John is a physician.. and perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. (P128) This ironic statement shows her rebelliousness’. She secretly feels her husband’s domination is the reason for her illness. However, as the narrator describes her rest cure the reader can get a of sense her resignation “but what is one to do” “or else meet with heavy opposition” The narrator is acquiescent, not wishing to trouble her husband. Conversely, this ironic statement tells the reader that she is not in agreement with her husband’s rest cure.