What causes the illness in "The Yellow Wallpaper"?
The narrator is initially suffering from postpartum depression, which typically includes mood swings, increased anxiety, and difficulty sleeping after a woman gives birth. However, the narrator's husband, John, subscribes to Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell's rest cure, which was designed to minimize distressing stimulation and promote physical health among women suffering from postpartum depression. The rest cure involved a solitary rest period lasting between six and eight weeks, where females were forbidden from socializing, reading, writing, and exercising.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman subscribed to Mitchell's rest cure, which exacerbated her condition to the point of a nervous breakdown. Gilman's experience motivated her to write the short story, and the narrator suffers similar symptoms as a result of the rest cure.
After John forces his wife to remain isolated in an upstairs room and prevents her from socializing, exercising, and writing, her depression worsens and she begins to suffer from psychosis. The narrator quickly loses touch with reality and begins to experience visual hallucinations. She begins seeing a wretched, oppressed woman crawling around inside the yellow wallpaper of her room. The narrator's visual hallucinations are a reflection of her oppressed, unhealthy marriage.
By the end of the story, the narrator has completely lost her mind and is virtually unrecognizable to her husband, who faints as soon as he sees her. What began as typical postpartum depression transformed into a severe case of psychosis as a result of the rest cure.
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