In "The Yellow Wallpaper," why does the narrator say: "what can one do?" How does that statement represent her state of mind?

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At the beginning of "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator writes that her husband, John, is "practical in the extreme." He laughs at her concerns about the house they have taken for the summer, and is inclined to scoff at any expression of sensibility at all. She then says:

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At the beginning of "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator writes that her husband, John, is "practical in the extreme." He laughs at her concerns about the house they have taken for the summer, and is inclined to scoff at any expression of sensibility at all. She then says:

John is a physician, and perhaps—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.

You see, he does not believe I am sick!

And what can one do?

The final question is repeated with a slight variation ("what is one to do?") twice over the next few lines, emphasizing the narrator's helplessness in the face of her husband and brother, also a physician, who agrees with her domineering husband. The two of them have exerted a combination of patriarchal and medical authority to choose a course of treatment with which she strongly disagrees. They want to keep her quiet and idle, while she says that she thinks "congenial work, with excitement and change" would be good for her and help her to recover more quickly.

The narrator's husband and brother seem to have good intentions, but their overbearing certainty leaves the narrator feeling powerless and frustrated. Her negative emotions and helplessness are clearly exacerbating the problem. There is also an irony in the way that they insist there is nothing seriously wrong with her but simultaneously prevent her from living a normal life. She feels that more activity would be good for her. The narrator's repeated questioning of what she is to do against their masculine authority makes it clear just how helpless she feels and is in the face of their obdurate insensitivity. She knows their influence is having a pernicious effect on her health and sanity. Her concern over her lack of freedom and agency, and the way in which her husband will not support her, will soon drive her mad.

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