Do you think that the narrator is mentally ill to begin with, or has something else caused her to become mentally ill in "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

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In "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman , there is no substantive evidence to suggest that the narrator was seriously ill at the time when and immediately after the story begins. We are told very early on that the narrator believes she is ill, but only because...

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In "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, there is no substantive evidence to suggest that the narrator was seriously ill at the time when and immediately after the story begins. We are told very early on that the narrator believes she is ill, but only because her husband, John, and her own brothers, who are physicians, have led her to believe there is something wrong with her. According to these men, she would benefit the most from a "rest cure" at the house with the yellow wallpaper:

He [John] is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.

I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more.

He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get. “Your exercise depends on your strength, my dear,” said he, “and your food somewhat on your appetite; but air you can absorb all the time.” So we took the nursery, at the top of the house.

In these paragraphs, she relates to us that John is controlling and tells her everything that she can do. He also doesn't let her write and forces her to spend all her time holed up in the nursery, a place that has repelled her since the moment they arrived—"he said what I felt was a drought, and shut the window."

The more time the narrator is forced to spend by herself and under the oppressive care of her husband, the more she accepts the idea of her "illness" and concludes that something must be wrong with her.

All of the men in her life infantilize her and convince her that she is unable to make decisions or survive without their help. At the end of her "treatment," when she starts to revert back to those infantile ways, she loses coherent thought and rationality.

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In the beginning of the narrative of "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator is suffering from what is now referred to as postpartum depression. This develops because of hormonal changes in women after childbirth. But, because of her forced confinement by her husband and physician, as well as her isolation from her baby and family and friends, the woman in this story becomes worse in her ability to think clearly and control her emotions.

According to the Mayo Clinic, among the many symptoms of this postpartum depression are these:

  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or inadequacy
  • Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions

"The Yellow Wallpaper" was published in 1892 as a criticism of the medical treatment that was prescribed at the time by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell to women who suffered from what was then termed "nervous prostration," or "neurasthenia." This story is an indictment of the insensitivity demonstrated by male physicians to female patients who suffered from the depression that often follows childbirth.

The insensitivity to the woman's condition oppresses her in her marriage, and deprives her of her voice. Her doctor and husband tell her that she merely suffers from a "temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency." She is virtually incarcerated in a room of a strange house without any access to the lovely garden outside. Her feelings are ignored as she is placed in a room with bars on the windows and wallpaper that is stripped off in patches. What is there is hideous to the woman's artistic eye:

One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin....when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide--plunge off at outrageous angles, and destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions. 

But, when she complains to her husband, he simply tells her, 

I must use my will and self-control and not let my silly fancies run away with me. 

When the narrator begs to go home, her husband denies her desires. In addition, he deprecates her creative powers of "story-making" and refuses to change the wallpaper and "give way to such fancies."

Isolated in a room that is repugnant to her with its hideous yellow wallpaper and "inharmonious" furniture, and without any outlet for her thoughts and feelings, the woman's imagination becomes overactive:

I...lie there for hours trying to decide whether that front pattern and the back pattern really did move together or separately. 

Because she is trapped in a room she finds hideous, the woman finally is seduced into an act of insanity that is committed in order to relieve her obsession with thoughts of entrapment.
Furthermore, she becomes mentally ill because of the insensitivity of her husband and Dr. Mitchell, who never recognize her symptoms or listen to her ideas and requests. Instead, they force her to remain alone in a room she detests without any outlets for her frustrations. 

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