In "The Yellow Wallpaper," how does the narrator's statement "what can one do?" represent her state of mind?

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The narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper" is suffering from post-partum depression, which was not recognized at the time. Her husband's lack of attention to this condition and his insistence that she rest in a room with a yellow wall paper instead of seeking real medical treatment only made her condition worse, until her mind snapped.

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At the beginning of "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator writes that her husband, John, is "practical in the extreme." He laughs at her concerns about the house they have taken for the summer, and is inclined to scoff at any expression of sensibility at all. She then says:

John is a physician, and perhaps—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.

You see, he does not believe I am sick!

And what can one do?

The final question is repeated with a slight variation ("what is one to do?") twice over the next few lines, emphasizing the narrator's helplessness in the face of her husband and brother, also a physician, who agrees with her domineering husband. The two of them have exerted a combination of patriarchal and medical authority to choose a course of treatment with which she strongly disagrees. They want to keep her quiet and idle, while she says that she thinks "congenial work, with excitement and change" would be good for her and help her to recover more quickly.

The narrator's husband and brother seem to have good intentions, but their overbearing certainty leaves the narrator feeling powerless and frustrated. Her negative emotions and helplessness are clearly exacerbating the problem. There is also an irony in the way that they insist there is nothing seriously wrong with her but simultaneously prevent her from living a normal life. She feels that more activity would be good for her. The narrator's repeated questioning of what she is to do against their masculine authority makes it clear just how helpless she feels and is in the face of their obdurate insensitivity. She knows their influence is having a pernicious effect on her health and sanity. Her concern over her lack of freedom and agency, and the way in which her husband will not support her, will soon drive her mad.

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Why is the yellow wallpaper making the narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper" hallucinate? What is her state of mind?

When the narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper" first arrives at the rented country home with a prescription to "rest," it is because her husband has determined she has a "temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency," and that she is not truly physically sick.  Today, we would recognize her condition as post-partum depression, and she would most likely be prescribed a mood enhancing drug of some sort.  At this time, however, she is told simply to put her mind at ease, stay indoors in bed, and do nothing that requires physical or mental exertion. 

Her husband determines that this "rest" in the country house should occur in an old nursery with bars on the windows and deteriorating yellow wallpaper, which the narrator immediately abhors.  She writes:

The color is repellent, 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.  No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.

As she spends more and more time in the room, the wallpaper begins to have its effect on her.  With nothing else to occupy her mind, she quickly becomes fixated on the wallpaper's pattern:

There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.  I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere

Soon, she begins to see something else:

I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design.

It is this figure that becomes her obsession.  Every day, she stares at the wallpaper, trying to find its secrets.  She recognizes that this is not healthy and begs her husband to let her out of this room, to leave the country home early - she even expresses her concern to him that, while she may be getting better physically, she believes her mind is starting to go.  He laughs at her silly fancies, ignoring her concerns to both of their detriment.

As days go by, the figure in the wallpaper becomes more distinct, and the narrator believes "it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern," and she believes "the faint figure behind seem(s) to shake the pattern, just as if she want(s) to get out."

The narrator's subconscious desires are clearly taking form in what she sees in the wallpaper, and soon she resolves to help this woman who is stuck in the wallpaper, for she is ...

all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern--it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.  They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white!  If those heads were covered or taken off it would not be half so bad.

In the end, her husband opens the door to the room to find his wife has gone insane.  She has torn all the wallpaper off the walls and is creeping around the room as she shouts at him:

"I've got out at last ... in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!"

Her husband's unresponsiveness to his wife's true needs and concerns ultimately lead to a condition for his wife far worse than "a temporary nervous depression."

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