If an essay question asks to explain how the woman becomes insane in "The Yellow Wallpaper," how is it answered and supported?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that a couple of points need to be made in explaining how the unnamed protagonist becomes insane in the work.  On one hand, I think that there has to be some attention paid to the condition of women after pregnancy and the depression that ensues afterwards.  Postpartum depression is a reality that confronts many women.  Yet, in the time frame of the short story, few understand it.  The husband doesn't, and the entire mantra of "needing rest" is a social convention of the time period that fails to understand the psychological condition of women following pregnancy.  In general, the woman suffers from depression and society fails to acknowledge her own voice.  This lack of validation becomes a part of the reason why she descends into further madness.  Additionally, I think that there has to be some discussion as to how the attitudes of society helps to push the woman into insanity.  The fact that she is limited from any type of activity that allows her to become more in touch with her own sense of identity causes her to channel all her creative energies into the wallpaper and eventually destroying it.  She cannot walk outside, keep a journal, talk to anyone, and articulate her thoughts in any way.  Essentially, she is battling depression and the silenced condition that society imposes upon her.  The idea of "case of nerves" as a diagnosis caused many women to become insane because they understood something was fundamentally wrong with them, and yet society did nothing to help them, encouraging the descent into madness almost to prove or validate the experience of women as being something to understand or comprehend in a more thorough manner.

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