An Examination of "The Yellow Wallpaper" Gender Inequality and Lack of Psychological Knowledge
So, Whats the Story?
Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper", demonstrates the struggle of being a woman during the 19th century. The basis of all problems for women was the lack of respect they received due to gender inequality. This ultimately lead to the speaker's psychotic break, as her husband failed to treat her mental illness properly since he did not take her seriously and most likely was not properly educated on mental illness.
"The Yellow Wallpaper"
Mental illness... It's no joke!
Not only were women seen as a joke during this time period, but so was mental illness. The speaker suffered from Postpartum Depression, after having her baby, and her husband (a doctor) says that the best thing for her illness is to isolate her self and do nothing. He ignores her hallucinations, thinking they will go away but instead she turns sneaky and her mental state continues to decline.
There was not much knowledge on mental illness during this century, which made some skeptical that it even existed. However, for those that did believe, they could not distinguish a mental illness from "normal" female hormonal behavior, and hadn't the slightest clue on how to treat it. While reading Amy Huddock's analysis of "The Yellow Wallpaper", she emphasis the gender inequality, and how psychologists aided in the belief that women were inferior.
" Noted psychologists detailed theories that “proved” women’s developmental immaturity, low cognitive skills, and emotional instability. Physicians, who actually had little knowledge of the inner workings of the female body, presented complex theories arguing that the womb created hysteria and madness, that it was the source of women’s inferiority. "— Amy Huddock
Wrong Diagnoses or Wrong Treatment?
Seeing that the speaker did not get better, it leads to the question on whether she was diagnosed with the correct mental illness or if she was prescribed the wrong course of treatment.
I've taken multiple courses in Psychology and am currently in school, aiming to be a Psychiatrist. There are many examples and studies on Postpartum Depression, which is depression that is activated after pregnancy, and they seem to match up with the speakers symptoms and results. Unfortunately, since this still is not a mental illness that is taken seriously and can be hard to detect, their are examples of what happens when it goes to far. Postpartum Depression can lead to a psychosis and violent behavior. There have been cases of mothers trying to hurt their children because the psychosis allows for delusions and hallucinations to skew their judgement.
Based on this information, I think it is safe to say she was diagnosed properly, but had the wrong treatment. Her husband ignored her and disrespected her, calling her pet names and belittle her and her creative ideas, which only helped her decline.
Time Era leads to Error
In order to understand and analyze this story further, I read "The Yellow Wallpaper, mental illness and its treatment". As mentioned in its title, this article from Litcharts.com is an analysis of the mental illness portrayed in "Yellow Wallpaper". The author describes husband, John, as a traditional attitude model towards mental illness during the time.Unfortunately, the way the speaker's husband reacts to her mental illness, was normal for the time era, as suggested by the Litcharts article.
So how's it end?
This story seems to follow some truth to the time, putting emphasis on gender inequality and lack of knowledge regarding mental illness, so naturally it ends with some truth as well.
As I mentioned before, when Postpartum Depression goes untreated it can lead to a psychosis with dangerous results. This is exactly what happens to the speaker. She continues to hallucinate, seeing a woman in the yellow wallpaper behind bars. This woman represents the speaker being trapped, so eventually the speaker hits full psychosis and hurts her husband in order to escape.
If her husband, John, had been fully educated on Postpartum Depression, and had any respect for his wife, this result could have been preventable. However, much like in the 19th century reality, women were "inferior", and mental illness was ignored.