Although on the surface The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a story about one womans struggles with sanity it is not. In truth, it is a story about the dominant/submissive relationship between an oppressive husband and his submissive wife. The husband, John, pushes his wifes depression to a point quite close to insanity. The narrator seems to destroy herself through her overactive imagination and her urge to write. When they arrive she seems well in control of her faculties, but by the time they are readying for departure, she has broken down.
Flawed human nature seems to play a great role in her breakdown. Her husband, a noted physician, is unwilling to admit that there may be a real problem with his wife. This same attitude is mirrored in her brother, also a physician. While these attitudes, and the actions taken by the two doctors, seem to have certainly contributed to her breakdown, it seems that there is an underlying rebellious spirit in her. The narrator, speaking out against her husband states, He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me.
This demonstrates how John is not treating his wife for anything. He simply doesnt believe there is a problem. This is one of her major motivations for keeping a journal; she thinks it helps her because she is afraid to speak out against her husband. Every time she thinks about writing in the journal, she relates how tired it makes her. Throughout the story, John speaks out against her writing, because he feels that it contributes to her depression but she writes anyway, feeling that she is getting away with something.
John treats her as if she were ill not depressed. John being a physician, not a psychologist, prescribes her medication that is for someone who is physically ill, not experiencing psychological distress. The journal becomes an outlet for her true feelings that she believes would get her incarcerated if anyone else heard them. When she writes she states, I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me. But I find I get pretty tired when I try.
Her husband who believes that her writing is contributing to her illness opposes this idea while not radical. As the story progresses, we find that she has begun to fixate on her room, and most of all on the wallpaper. She finds the bed is nailed down, the windows have bars, and there are rings and things sticking out of the walls possibly from the days of this being a childrens playroom. She at first hates the room, but grows to like it, Im getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper.
Perhaps because of the wallpaper This is a contradiction, and possibly the first moment of her real mental breakdown. It seems at this point she is not dealing with reality anymore. She begins to see a woman in the wall, which can be interpreted as the projection of her self-image, a woman imprisoned by outside forces. It would seem at this point she is almost withdrawing from real life and entering a world of fantasy. Her husband does not see that her problem is with her imagination, and that she does not have a sense of reality.
This is perhaps brought on by a loss of a sense of her identity as a wife and mother. This seems to be exacerbated by her husband through his use of terms like darling, little girl, and little goose. These terms and their resulting effects contributing to the image of a dominant husband causing the mental breakdown of his wife. The wallpaper seems to ultimately cause her total breakdown. It is described as flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin. As the time of her total lapse of sanity, she seemingly will go to any length to tear down the wallpaper.
To illustrate, she cannot reach to the ceiling except for by standing on the bed. She wants to move the bed so she can tear the wallpaper off the wall as far as much as possible. When she fails to move the bed she becomes extremely frustrated and bites off a small piece in one corner, hurting her teeth in the process. This demonstrates that she will go to any length to get to the wallpaper. At the same time as wanting to destroy the wallpaper she gets very protective, no person touches this paper but menot alive.
Once she writes this journal entry, she has finally shown conclusive signs of insanity. In addition to the pattern, she also fixates on the color of her imprisoning wallpaper. This color soon becomes a fixture of her thinking, I dont want to go outside. I wont, even if Jennie asks me too. For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow. By embracing the color of the walls that subjectively imprison her, she has embraced the insanity gripping her.