What are the effects of irony in Charlotte Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper?
There is great irony in the fact that the advice from the narrator’s husband and brother – both physicians, is what drives her into madness. The supposed ‘rest cure’ was often prescribed to women who were seen as overwrought. It was, as Charlotte Perkins Gilman believed, also a tool to subdue the more intelligent, creative and artistic leanings of women who could be a challenge to their husbands and patriarchal society. The narrator states -
Personally, I disagree with their ideas.
Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.
But what is one to do?
As her husband continues to deny the effects of the cure he has administered, the narrator declines slowly into madness. We may see an irony here in that when in this state she believes that she sees a woman trapped behind the wallpaper. It is of course herself who is shut up in the ugly nursery. The setting is also ironic in that the narrator is being treated as a child – and is referred to as such – yet is actually a new mother: her condition being post partum depression.
Her final act is ironic in that she conquers the restraint of her husband’s ‘cure’ and he is prostrate at her feet –
"I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back! "
Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!
In the short story "The Yellow Paper" the reader is given the sense that the woman's husband and brother are very good doctors and are only looking out for the woman's health. However, as the reader moves through the story, the woman appears to be going crazy. Her focus is on the woman trapped behind the wall paper and the designs and changes in the paper.
The more the family tries to make her rest and her husband confines her to the bed, the more the woman declines. Her husband's "good intentions" are destroying his wife. I believe at the end of the story she has gone quite mad and will not allow herself to be removed from the home that they have rented.