The Yellow Wallpaper Questions and Answers
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper book cover
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In "The Yellow Wallpaper," does the husband lock his wife away because he can't deal with her illness or because he loves her?

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This is a difficult question to answer, because I feel that perhaps we can identify both responses in the behaviour of John, the narrator's husband. I do feel that he does genuinely love his wife, and that he is taking great pains to ensure that she receives the care and attention that she needs because of her condition. However, at the same time, the way in which mental illness was regarded as something of a taboo subject means that I am sure he was grateful that he was able to "treat" his wife's condition in the seclusion of the countryside away from prying eyes and gossiping tongues in the city.

Let us note what the narrator tells us about him and how they came to be in the rural retreat where they are staying:

He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get. "Your exercise depends on your strength, my dear," said he, "and your food somewhat on your appetite; but air you can absorb all the time." So we took the nursery at the top of the house.

Ostensibly, therefore, John moves his wife to the countryside as an act of love. She needs rest and air, and she is able to get these in the countryside away from the busy urban life. However, when we think of the way in which depression and mental illness were not recognised at this time, it is clear that John's decision stems from both his love for his wife and his desire to keep her away from the social limelight. There would have been a sense of embarrassment that he would have experienced.

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