Gilman's period and the cultural assumptions about women in the nineteenth century greatly influenced her creating the narrator in the story. She used herself, a woman who suffers from a mental condition, as the character in a story in which a woman endures great suffering while following a prescribed treatment...
Gilman's period and the cultural assumptions about women in the nineteenth century greatly influenced her creating the narrator in the story. She used herself, a woman who suffers from a mental condition, as the character in a story in which a woman endures great suffering while following a prescribed treatment for her condition. This not only exposes the reality of women in an oppressive society, but also brings up a true conversation of the reality of mental illness.
The main character of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is Gilman herself. The treatment that she speaks about in the story was based Gilman's own experiences trying to deal with depression. It is described as a "rest cure" that limits any intellectual activity to less than 2 hours per day. Moreover, upon getting cured, women would have been asked (like Gilman was) not to ever do anything involving brain activity "for the rest of [their] lives."
These suggestions would have been a horror to someone with the intellectual acumen of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In fact, that is exactly what happened, which is one of the reasons why, after hitting an all-time depression low, Gilman took back her paper and pen and wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper." In her own words,
the little book is valued by alienists and as a good specimen of one kind of literature. It has[...] saved one woman from a similar fate--so terrifying her family that they let her out into normal activity and she recovered.
She also adds, responding to criticism by two male physicians who attacked and insulted the story:
It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.
Therefore, more than advancing a uniquely feminine agenda, Gilman is also doing the unthinkable for a woman of her generation: she is putting herself out there and openly confessing to being mentally ill; she is admitting that mental illness is real, misunderstood, and open to affect just about anyone. A mentally ill woman who admits it would have been a shock that would have broken with every expectation of perfection bestowed upon the gender. As such, these factors are the real reason behind creating the main character of "The Yellow Wallpaper."