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Psychological Lens on The Yellow Wallpaper and The Rest Cure

Updated on March 9, 2018

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman is the author of The Yellow Wallpaper which was published in January 1892. Gilman herself, like the narrator in the Yellow Wallpaper had suffered from postpartum depression after having her daughter. She was put under the care of a neurologist named Silas Weir Mitchell who enforces the rest cure in the spring of 1887. From reading the article "Anne Stiles, "The Rest Cure, 1873-1925"", I found out that in Gilman’s autobiography, “The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1935)”, she wrote that she came close to losing her mind. She would sit and move her head from side to side. She was not crazy from postpartum depression but was starting to feel crazy from being stuck in bed and not being able do anything to excite her mind.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Source

Postpartum Depression in the Narrator

Postpartum depression is a depression that happens after a woman has given birth to her child. The mother may feel many feelings like sadness. Although they of course love their baby, they have a hard time feeling happy and forming a bond with the child. Other symptoms are irritability, loss of appetite, and insomnia. Some treatments for postpartum depression are antidepressants, hormone therapy, or counseling.

In the Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator's husband probably noticed that his wife was acting off after the birth of their child. He probably thought something was seriously wrong with her because she was acting differently than expected and was not forming a bond with their child. The narrator definitely had insomnia because she would stay up at night and watch the woman behind the wallpaper in the room. In a scholarly article that I have read called “On Not Reading Between The Lines: Models of Reading in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, it says, "Since God and nature made woman submissive, chaste, and nurturing, any deviance from these qualities can only be interpreted as a sign that she has been driven out of her "true" nature and taken possession of by some wicked spirit". Back in the day women were made to look a certain way and if they did not act that way or have those qualities then they were crazy or had a bad spirit. I think maybe the narrator was not really acting that strange at first but since she was not acting exactly how her husband wanted her to he thought something was wrong with her. I think at first she had postpartum depression after having her baby and her husband did not think that she was acting the way she was supposed to. Since she did not act the way she was supposedly supposed to, her husband moved them to a new house and locked her in a room where she finally did go crazy.



Source

The Rest Cure

The Rest Cure was a very popular treatment during 1873-1925. The narrator's husband was a doctor and he prescribed her the rest cure. She spent all of her time in one room alone because in the article "Anne Stiles, "The Rest Cure, 1873-1925"", it says that the rest cure had three elements to it which were feeding, rest, and isolation. The rest cure was prescribed for women more often than it was for men. The women usually had to lay in bed for around six weeks to two months. They were supposed to stay in bed for twenty four hours a day. I know for myself, if I sit for too long then I feel like I am going to scream and go crazy. In my opinion, that would make anyone even more upset and depressed and result in them going crazy. The narrator was going absolutely crazy from being isolated and having very limited human interaction. She wasn't even allowed to see her new baby. Under the rest cure, women were not allowed to see friends or family. The article, “On Not Reading Between The Lines: Models of Reading in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, states that the narrator had a lot of anger and aggression. Which would make sense since at the end of the story, she is mad at her husband and basically tells him that he can’t control her anymore. As for getting rest, she did not get much because she was so focused on the wallpaper during the night. She probably felt more crazy from not getting enough sleep also.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Narrator

I believe that Gilman wrote the Yellow Wallpaper to represent a part of her life and the narrator is supposed to be a form of herself. In the Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator says, “if I don’t pick up faster he will send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall. But I don't want to go there at all” (33). The man she is referring to was actually a real neurologist named Silas Weir Mitchell who is the doctor that took care of Gilman and also prescribed her the rest cure. Maybe Gilman made the end of the Yellow Wallpaper so creepy and crazy because the rest cure actually made her feel that crazy. I think that maybe being locked in a room and being ordered to not do anything besides lay in bed, made the narrator and Gilman herself, develop more psychological problems other than just postpartum depression.

Source

In Conclusion...

I don't think that the narrator or Gilman should have been prescribed the rest cure. Gilman felt crazy and the narrator obviously became a lot worse. They both were suffering from postpartum depression and being isolated and away from their babies was probably the worst thing that they could have been ordered to do. I think that the narrator had insomnia, anger, and other confusing feelings before she was locked in a room while she had postpartum depression. Then, when she was ordered to do the rest cure, all of those feelings and behaviors amplified. Although Gilman did not go actually crazy like the narrator, she felt as if she was that crazy in her mind.

Source
Source

Works Cited:

GILMAN, CHARLOTTE PERKINS. YELLOW WALLPAPER. LULU COM, 2017.

King, Jeannette and Pam Morris. "On Not Reading between the Lines: Models of Reading in 'The Yellow Wallpaper'." Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 26, no. 1, Winter89, p. 22. EBSCOhost, massasoit.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip&db=aph&AN=7134339&site=eds-live.

Lieber, Arnold. “Postpartum Depression: A Guide to Symptoms & Treatment After Childbirth.” PsyCom.net - Mental Health Treatment , 14 Feb. 2018, www.psycom.net/depression.central.post-partum.html.

Martin, Diana. “The Rest Cure Revisited.” American Journal of Psychiatry, American Psychiatric Association, 1 May 2007, ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/ajp.2007.164.5.737.

Stiles, Anne. Branch, www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=anne-stiles-the-rest-cure-1873-1925.

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