What is the value of the story 'The Yellow Wallpaper'?

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The value in this short story is that it interprets Silas Weir Mitchell's rest cure treatment for postpartum depression and other "nervous" disorders from the point of view of a woman who was actually subjected to it.

Mitchell was a real person and his theories on dealing with patients suffering...

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The value in this short story is that it interprets Silas Weir Mitchell's rest cure treatment for postpartum depression and other "nervous" disorders from the point of view of a woman who was actually subjected to it.

Mitchell was a real person and his theories on dealing with patients suffering from what we would today call mental illness were widely influential in the real world at around the turn of the century and for some decades beyond. For example, Virginia Woolf was subjected to the rest cure treatment when she had nervous breakdowns.

Woolf critiques this form of treatment in her novel Mrs. Dalloway, when shell-shocked Septimus Smith commits suicide rather than be subjected to a rest cure in an institution. Gilman also critiques this treatment, which deprived patients of any intellectual outlets or interests, as a cruel punishment that only made any depression or mental illness worse.

Gilman shows the narrator disintegrating and becoming more profoundly mentally ill under this "cure" than she was before it started. Women's voices about what they need should be heard, not ignored by men trying to determine what is "best" for them without their input. Gilman's story is important because it provides a compelling and persuasive critique of the horror of mental health care in her period.

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'The Yellow Wallpaper' is an important and valuable text in several ways. It deals with important issues - the treatment of women and mental illness in society, based upon Gilman's own experience of post-natal depression - and it does so in a striking manner, employing the style of psychological horror. Indeed, this approach led it initially to be regarded as little more than horror in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe, but subsequently it has come to be recognised as a seminal social and feminist text in its depiction of a woman whose mental breakdown is worsened by the medical treatment foisted upon her by her male carers.

In the time in which the story was written, women were often diagnosed vaguely with hysteria and condemned to a rest-cure which, as Gilman knew from her own experiences, often worsened the problem. Confined to her bed, forbidden to do anything so taxing as writing - something she herself realises would be therapeutic for her - the narrator almost literally goes out of her mind with boredom.

As this character narrates her own story, she is able to directly communicate her thoughts and feelings to the reader, in a style that is at once monotonous and agitated. We, as readers, are able to sympathise directly with her, and that makes us more involved in the story and the issues that it raises.

The story also makes effective use of imagery with the yellow wallpaper which becomes a sinister symbol of the narrator's mental problems and her feeling of entrapment:

The colour is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.

This grim description conveys the narrator's own sense of sickness, and even hellishness, with the reference to the 'sulphur tint'. With the use of such sophisticated literary techniques, the story leaves a lasting impression on the reader. It deals with important social issues in a memorable way and that is its enduring value. 

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