In the short story, thepatient is slowly driven mad by her cure, prescribed by her physicianhusband, and is cut off from any intellectual pursuits whatsoever. Themisdiagnosis of depression and anxiety leads the woman on a downward spiralthat eventually causes her to perceive the yellow wallpaper in her room asa projection of herself. The woman is eventually able to regain self-empowerment by tearing down her barriers, in the form of the wallpaper inher room. The narrator initiates the story by describing a beautiful, butprison-like house, run by the protagonist’s husband that both realisticallyand symbolically confines his wife.
The husband keeps his wifeincommodious for two probable reasons. First, the husband was a physicianand despite his good intentions, ignorantly prescribed the worst treatmentimaginable for depression, inactivity. Second, most likely due to societyat the time, the man arrogantly perpetuates an ideological prison thatsubjects and silences his wife. The husband prescribes a remedy for hiswife, a woman, which he would not also recommend for a man. Because thedoctor’s decision was based on no physiological or proven psychologicaldifference between man and woman, the doctor’s rational is not merelymedical, but sexist.
Society supported the sexist idea that did notbelieve a woman should enjoy creative expression, mental stimulus, oraccess to things that fulfill her. These beliefs influenced the husband’sdecision to confine his wife physically which also lead to herpsychologically imprisonment. Further evidence of John’s sexist and psychological ignorance revealsitself when he refers to his wife as “little girl” and repeatedly coos suchphrases as “blessed little goose” or “bless her little heart” when speakingto her. (Gilman 23) These alleged terms of endearment tap into what thefamous psychologist Thomas A.
Harris would refer to as, her “Not OK child. “Harris explains these terms in his book, I’m OK You’re OK, based on EricBurne’s ideas called Transactional Analysis. Harris explores in depth whathe calls ‘life positions’. At some stage early in our lives we adopt a”position” about ourselves that very significantly determines how we feelabout ourselves, particularly in relation to other people.
Harris usedBerne’s work as a basis for his own, focused on the internal voices thatspeak to us all the time in the form of archetypal characters: the Parent,the Adult and the Child (the PAC framework). All of us have Parent, Adultor Child ‘data’ guiding our thoughts and decisions, and Harris believedthat transactional analysis would free up the Adult, the reasoning voice. The Adult in us prevents a hijack by unthinking obedience (Child), oringrained habit or prejudice (Parent), leaving us a vestige of free will. John clearly hijacks his wife’s “Child” and leaves her dependent andobedient.
John’s ignorance of psychology does not enable him to realizethat he is being sexist and harmful to his wife. One can see at the beginning of the book that the woman is not too fargone. Her first impression is of the ugly wallpaper; she has “never seen aworse paper in her life” (Gilman 18). Almost immediately; however, shebegins to project herself onto the wallpaper, describing the pattern’s”lame uncertain curves” that “suddenly commit suicide-plungeing off atoutrageous angles; destroying themselves in unheard-of contradictions”(Gilman 18-19). It is the woman herself who feels lame and uncertain,fears suicide, and fears that she herself will suddenly plunge off at someoutrageous angle; all of which are symptoms of depression.
Her self-control is still intact, but like the wallpaper, disturbing patches showthrough. She states she is trying to follow “that pointless pattern tosome kind of conclusion (21). Obviously, she is trying to find some sortof pattern and reach some kind of conclusion about her own life. Sheeventually notes that the “dim shapes” skulking behind the overlayingpattern are getting clearer; they have begun to resemble a woman, stoopingdown and creeping. The protagonist and the woman in the wallpaper areidentical; the woman in the wallpaper is a projection of herself. At theend, in emulation of the wallpaper woman, she has begun to crawl and creeparound the room in a bizarre re-enactment of the drama in her mind.
Thewoman at last rips the wallpaper off the wall, freeing both the wallpaperwoman and herself. After this action, the woman begins to regain self-empowerment and self-control once again. Thomas Harris would explain heraction as forward progress toward achieving her “OK” or “Adult” self. This story allows the reader to understand the sexist culture of thetime and the struggles a woman had to endure. Mental illnesses such asdepression and anxiety show no distinction between the male and femalebrain. Charlotte Gilman may not have even fully understood the principlesof psychology her story portrays; nevertheless, her story does sopowerfully.