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The Power Of The Female Mind

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The Power of the Female Mind

This paper examines Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story "The Yellow Wall-paper," by focusing in particular on the history of the narrator’s mental instability, and on her current condition as that of post-partum depression syndrome. How, defeated by her inability to communicate with her husband, the protagonist immerses herself into analyzing the wall-paper, and, as her madness progresses, the narrator develops an unfounded fear of her husband and sister-in-law, and becomes aware of a woman present in the pattern of the wallpaper. Furthermore, it analyzes how, later in her psychosis, the protagonist imagines many women caught in the pattern. It discusses how the women caught in the wall-paper seem to be comparable to the narrator’s imprisonment by her husband. Additionally, the analysis shows that, while the narrator’s sensitivity of the wall-paper exposes her escalating madness, this perception symbolizes the struggle from which women during that time period attempted to break free, as they were forced to abide to social rules and norms arbitrarily imposed upon them by a male dominated society.

From an early age, the protagonist of “The Yellow Wall-paper” seems to have shown signs of mental instability. An indication of this was her singular imagination as a child, which was unusual compared to other children of her age. Even though it is not clear, this early onset of imaginative episodes might have facilitated to her rapid descent into insanity during adulthood: “I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank wall and plain furniture than most children could find in a toy store” (811). As an adult, the narrator first appears as a typical person when she vividly describes the house where she has been taken for a treatment of rest and relaxation. However, her current state of mind becomes clear, as she believes that there is something bizarre about the house, even though there is not apparent problem with their vacation home: “…there’s something strange about he house-I can feel it” (809).

Early in the story, the reason for her current condition is inferred as being post-partum depression syndrome. The narrator expresses her inability to be with her child as something that makes her uneasy and that she cannot control: “And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me nervous” (810). Her husband, John, significantly contributes to her state of mind. He makes all choices for the narrator and her well being, preventing her from making her own decisions. He treats her as if she was a patient, and constantly talks down to her, as one would to a small child: “What is it, little girl”…Don’t go walking about like that-you’ll get cold” (814). To a great extent, this behavior contributes to her becoming emotionally dependent on him. The protagonist has convinced herself that John is smarter than she is, and that all he wants is for her to get better. However, she refuses to talk about her condition with her husband, as he continues ignoring her illness, and even prevents her from thinking about it when she brings it up for discussion: “…never for one instant let that idea enter you mind” (814). The situation forces her to suppress her feelings, accelerating her psychological descent.

Feeling hopeless when it comes to speaking with her husband, the narrator begins to spend more and more time in the upstairs bedroom, constantly scrutinizing and trying to decipher the yellow wall-paper. Due to her frail state of mind, she convinces herself that the wall-paper is not only alive, but that it is out to hurt her: “It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you” (815). While she feels threatened by the paper all the time, she feels particularly trapped by it at night. The protagonist comes to believe that the paper’s shades of color change, and that behind its pattern there is a woman hiding. It is possible that this woman behind the yellow wall-paper is the projection of herself, as she describes her as submissive and quiet, much like she has to be for her husband. She blames the woman’s state of entrapment within the wall-paper in the same way that she feels trapped by her husband’s actions: “By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still. It is so puzzling” (815).

As her mental state deteriorates, her fears increases and her delirious images multiply. She becomes afraid of her husband and his sister, Jennie, who is caring for the narrator’s son, because due to her condition, she is not able to care for her own child. She truly believes that there is something wrong with both John and his sister, and she becomes afraid of John, for no apparent reason. Moreover, the narrator is certain that there is something strange about Jennie, and that she has an “inexplicable look” (815). Without their knowledge, the narrator has seen both John and Jennie “looking at the wall-paper,” and finds this to be strange (815). From this point on, her descent into insanity acquires momentum, and she can no longer control her thoughts. She begins associating the wall-paper with bad memories, or “old, foul, bad, yellow things,” which instigates in her a desire



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