What is the relationship between a "temporary nervous depression-a slight hysterical tendency" and the story's setting in "The Yellow Wallpaper?"

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote describes the mental state of the narrator, as diagnosed by her doctor. The diagnosis of hysteria to explain all manner of mental disorders in women was perhaps too readily offered in the period in which this story was written, but there is no doubt that the narrator is suffering from some form of mental problem – perhaps post-natal depression, which Gilman herself suffered from.  However the treatment prescribed for her hysteria (a treatment common at that time), which is for her to stay indoors and do nothing, greatly worsens her condition. The country house, which outwardly appears peaceful  but, as she notes, has an edge of decay, can be seen as symbolic of her deteriorating mental state, as she is forced into a state of inactivity which might appear peaceful on the outside, but which actually increases her inner agitation. The room with the yellow paper, with its window bars and clamped bed, becomes particularly symbolic in this respect. It becomes, in effect, a place of imprisonment, reflecting how she is trapped in her mental anxiety and also by the well-meaning but foolish advice of her husband and doctor. She needs stimulation, not boredom. With nothing else to do, she becomes utterly fixated on the yellow wallpaper, convinced that she can see a figure trying to struggle out of it – just as she herself is struggling to escape from her mental problems and restrictions.

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The Yellow Wallpaper

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