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Published in 1892, "The Yellow Wallpaper" was composed as a criticism of the medical treatment prescribed to women suffering from a condition that was known at the time as “neurasthenia,”or "nervous prostration." Gilman's story is a bold indictment of the insensitivity of male physicians to their female patients who suffered from what is now known as post-partum depression, a real condition resulting from the hormonal changes which new mothers suffer. Isolation and complete bed rest with no stimulation was the cure, according to Dr. Weir Mitchell, the doctor whom her physician husband felt knew best how to treat women.
Gilman's story is a Gothic tale of psychological horror that stirs its modern readers who are shocked at the insensitivity shown to the main character as they consider her suffering mere "fancy." But, contemporaries of Gilman did not react in this way. In fact, it was not until 1973 that the story really gained any literary prominence. However, after 1973, "The Yellow Wallpaper" became part of the canon of Feminist literature. Indeed, the life-like narrator's descent into insanity encapsulates the oppression of women in the Victorian Age. The narrator's lack of voice in her treatment and her relationship with her husband is appalling.
"The Yellow Wallpaper" is a captivating and disturbing story that has acted as an advocate for oppressed women. At times it is poignant:
He [her husband] says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let my silly fancies run away with me.
Indeed, it has much social value; in addition, its gothic elements render its narrative intriguing--even psychologically seducing--while at the same time they are horrific and morbidly funny. It is a worthy story of its own merits, and it sends a worthy message, as well.
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