In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s essay “Why I Wrote 'The Yellow Wallpaper,'” she says the story “was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy.” What does she mean by this? Does “The Yellow Wallpaper” express feminist themes or a feminist point of view?

In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman reveals the negative consequences of the “rest” treatment often prescribed to women in the nineteenth century. The story's narrator is literally driven crazy by such “treatment.” The story also speaks with a female voice about female concerns and female oppression.

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In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator literally goes crazy by the end of the story, and there is a reason for this. The narrator is a young married woman who has an infant son. Her husband, who is a doctor, takes her to a country house for relaxation and “treatment” for her nervous condition. He manages her life right down to the smallest details, planning her food and exercise, dictating where she will sleep, and forbidding her to work, have company, or care for their child. The narrator, however, has different ideas about what will make her better. She wants to write and have stimulating conversations, and since she is probably suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety, she is probably right that these activities would help.

Yet the narrator goes along with her husband's wishes, even though she sneaks in writing whenever she can. The “treatment,” however, makes her more nervous than ever. Bored stiff, she begins to focus and then obsess with the wallpaper in her room. Its horrendous pattern seems to be moving, and after a little while, the narrator asks (almost begs) her husband to switch rooms because it is bothering her so much. He calls her a little goose and refuses.

The longer she follows her husband's regimen and the more she fixates on the wallpaper, the more the narrator's neurosis turns to psychosis. She begins to see a woman behind the wallpaper, shaking the pattern, trying to get out. Soon, the narrator identifies with the woman, and in the end, she rips off the wallpaper, telling her husband that she is now free and that he cannot put her back in. She is reduced to creeping around the room, completely crazy.

Through this story, Gilman is raising awareness about this kind of “rest” treatment that doctors like the narrator's husband often prescribed for their female patients. Without consulting the patient about her ideas or her needs or preferences, a doctor would simply say she needed rest to curb her “hysteria.” Yet, as the story shows, it was the kind of rest that could literally drive a person insane. Gilman is trying to prevent that from happening again, hence her comment about about saving people from being driven crazy.

As for feminist themes or point of view, “The Yellow Wallpaper” certainly expresses both. Gilman is trying to give a voice to a female victim of the “rest” treatment and to show what women really want and need, which is respect and consideration of their ideas and desires. Gilman is also revealing the often patronizing attitude of men who don't think women can handle themselves or have ideas or preferences. The husband in the story learns the hard way what can happen when he treats his wife like a helpless child rather than an adult woman.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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