In "The Yellow Wallpaper," discuss the (social, mental and physical) "traps" that the narrator has to endure.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the circumstances surrounding the protagonist's recent birthing of a baby, and her ensuing post-partum depression, affect her mental, physical and social well-being.

First, the unnamed protagonist is brought by her husband, along with her sister-in-law and her new baby, to a summer home where the woman is supposed to do nothing: she is not allowed any stimulation at all. Her mental state is not treated, but ignored, and her husband controls his wife. Ironically, part of her problem is that her husband is a doctor.

...and perhapsperhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. You see, he does not believe I am sick.

John "takes all care from me," by controlling every aspect of her life. She tries not to think of her problem, but she has little to distract her. She believes that some kind of work would help her, but it is forbidden. She has nothing to do. John does not allow her even to write, so she keeps her diary in secret.

Her room is at the top of the house, once a nursery—then a playroom and gymnasium. There are bars on the windows, certainly once put there for the safety of children, but now it too much resembles a prison.

The woman's illness is the result of several factors—it take its toll. She is physically exhausted as her situation and her "nervousness" chip away at her. Keeping things secret (like the diary) tires her. She reports that it is exhausting to try "to dress and entertain, and order things." She feels like a burden to her husband, and admits that the situation is difficult to manage. As for her husband...

He knows there is no reason to suffer and that satisfies him.

She thinks about the baby, glad her sister-in-law is so good with him, but she is not allowed to see the infant—because he makes her nervous.

Mentally, the woman's depression worsens because of the reasons already mentioned, as well as because of the wallpaper. She wants it gone, and her husband had planned to change it, but then—like a tyrant trying to prove something, John changes his mind.

…afterward he said I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies.

The woman tries to "fight" the peeling yellow paper, but John decides to take a "tough love" approach, making her face her "fancies." Her mental condition begin to noticeably change. When they first arrive she says of her room:

I should hate it myself if I should have to live in this room long.

With more time spent there, she says it isn't so bad, but the paper:

It dwells in my mind so.

John's constant control forces the wife to remain in that room, and she imagines she sees things in the wallpaper—becoming obviously obsessed by it.

Her depression worsens on a social level. She sees little of her husband—as a doctor, John is often gone a great deal, during the days and sometimes at night. She cannot spend time with the baby. She spends too much time alone. She doesn't take callers, or sit and sew with her sister-in-law.

All of this leads to her deepening depression. No one notices—not even John. She believes he does everything out of love, but it's a need to control. Then the smell comes, and the faces with their eyes appear in the paper. The woman rips down the paper, and soon creeps along the walls. In her descent to madness, she doesn't even know John, but is freed from reality and the paper—trapped by depression and insanity.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that you have much upon which to build for this topic.  Gilman's work gives many traps into which the narrator.  One of the most evident is the fact that the narrator does not have a name.  She is nameless, only known to us as "the narrator."  This represents a trap, in its own right, on many levels.  The first is that socially, the woman lacks a voice.  She even lacks a name with which to identify herself.  She is, essentially, nameless and lacking in the most basic construct of identity:  a name.  This reflects one level within which she is trapped.  Another level of trap that is evident for her is the fact that the social entrapment of women has filtered its way to her husband, who believes that his wife's illness is a case of "nerves."  I think that this is a trap for the narrator because she cannot fully escape this level of silencing.  In another sense, I think that the narrator traps herself into the idea that the only voice she has lies in the narrative of the wallpaper, itself.  She lacks the vocabulary to open a dialogue with her husband about her condition, and the change from what is into what should be that she so covets.  In this inability, the narrator traps herself into projecting all of her condition into the wallpaper.  In this sense, the narrator silences herself into fully embracing the fact that there is little progressive hope for her.  Her fascination with the wallpaper, and what is transpiring within it, is reflective of this "self- entrapment."

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The Yellow Wallpaper

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