Homework Help

How does the narrator's mood change as "The Yellow Wallpaper" progresses?If...

user profile pic

zeevroizman | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted January 16, 2010 at 3:01 AM via web

dislike 2 like

How does the narrator's mood change as "The Yellow Wallpaper" progresses?

If psychologically focused on unnamed narrator of the story how is this [her mood] change evidenced in her language and response to the wallpaper and how can it be explained? When she said that the wallpaper stinks, she realized that her marriage stinks and is ugly as this wallpaper. I was thinking that she decides to stop her marriage. But to the end of the story I was mistaken. It should be something deeper. I’m from Europe and my English is not on the level to handle those covered up messages; was it the time issue, woman rights, or wrong diagnoses & treatments @ that time or all of them? Emma Bovary has committed suicide at the similar situation. She was on the edge. If the narrator in the story decided not to do so, it means she isn’t crazy. Why then she decided “to join Jain from the shadow of the wall”?

One more thing; I do want women to answer my question, since in my opinion we are not able to dive deep enough to pick up the key from the bottom of the woman's soul. As the narrator has no name, I think that the author wanted apply this to all women. Or she just copied a plot from O. De Balzac’s "Madam Bovary" that was very popular at that time and gave us another version: what would happen is Emma stayed alive?

Again, I am asking women's opinion only on this question. I try to understand not only main character of this story, but an American society @ that time and women’s place in it

2 Answers | Add Yours

Top Answer

user profile pic

Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted January 16, 2010 at 12:49 PM (Answer #1)

dislike 1 like

You have raised a great many interesting issues in addition to your basic inquiry. To answer the basic inquiry, the narrator becomes increasingly irrational as the story progresses, until she appears to be out of touch with reality, however, not so out of touch with reality that she does not stop to think that she would not do something desperate. She says "a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued" (255).  

Several other points you raise are important.  The story was published in 1892, when women had few rights.  They did not vote, did not generally own property unless it was held with their husbands, and even that was rare. To the degree that they were educated, it was only so that they could meet and attract husbands.  You will notice that the husband in the story treats the narrator more as a child than as a wife, and while this is exaggerated, there appears to be some validity to the idea that women were treated almost like children in this era.

I do not think, though, that the fact that the narrator does not kill herself is evidence that she is not mentally ill. There are probably millions of mentally ill people who do not commit suicide.  There is evidence that the author suffered from post-partum depression, and I believe that is what is being portrayed in the story.  This is not a condition that was recognized at the time, and it is often not recognized by friends and family today.  As to treatment for mental illness of any kind in that era, the options were limited, and probably rest and a lack of stimulation were typical prescriptions for anyone.  While I have no particular expertise in that era, I have done enough reading to be able to say that mental illness in women was taken less seriously, since most of their behaviors were attributed to their being women, who were thought of as more emotional, less stable, and less competent generally. The origin of the word "hysteria" is from the Greek word for "uterus," good evidence of the idea that females tended to the hysterical simply because they were female. Sometimes I am not so sure that much has changed since that time.   

user profile pic

Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted January 30, 2010 at 11:41 AM (Answer #2)

dislike 1 like

Just to expand upon an interesting tidbit in the previous, stellar answer, . . . critics often note that the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" has a graphic mood change in the story because, after the birth of her child, she travels from postpartum depression into postpartum psychosis (as evidenced by her crawling around the room on her hands and knees).

Although I am not sure how postpartum depression is treated in Europe, in the USA doctors and midwives are taught to ask particular questions on postpartum visits in order to grasp the key indicators of this condition.  I remember them vividly, actually.  Questions like, "Do you find yourself crying uncontrollably?"  If patients answer in the affirmative, the caregiver can direct the patient to the proper mental health professional.

Obviously, "The Yellow Wallpaper" was written long before treatment for postpartum depression was even considered a condition.  Therefore, women who had that particular condition were simply considered mentally ill.

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes