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"The Yellow Wallpaper," a short story with an unnamed narrator depicts a wife and mother who starts to suffer from an advanced form of depression mixed with anxiety. John, her husband and physician, prescribes her the best medicine he can give, bed rest, which ultimately makes things worse for her condition. When the wallpaper in her room comes to life, within her words, it becomes obvious that she has truly become out of touch with reality. The narrator's sanity never returned to where she could socially function because of society's expectations of her, not having her child and husband as a functional family, and staying in an 'asylum' like room. The wallpaper she describes only makes her sanity diminish further as she shows no hope of being sociable with people outside of the house.
Being in a room with self medication as the only mean of getting better, the narrator seems to slip worst into her depression when the wallpaper in her room begins to bother her. The first noticeable characteristic about the wallpaper is that the narrator describes the yellow wallpaper as an intricate pattern with a woman behind it trying to escape. "The front of the pattern does move---and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one" (729). This could be interpreted as the wallpaper being a symbol of expectations of women, and as some, or many, standing up for what they believe they are quickly stricken by expectations of how a normal, everyday housewife of the late 1800s would have been expected to act. The wallpaper was smothering the narrator from being who she wanted. This feminist look on the story adds symbolism to the meaning of tearing down the wallpaper and struggling to break free from the average expectations of others. Although her identity may be insane and confusing, it is still her own.
In the story, the narrator's child is obviously not in her care as it is depicted that Mary is taking care of her baby. "It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous" (722). This suggests that the narrator is in bad health and not fit to be a mother because of her depression and anxiety. It even seems as if she is scared of the thought of being a mother in general. As she explains her nervousness over taking care of the child, it seems that she is not ready to be a mother. Another important factor that drives this insanity in her is that she and John are not involved in the ways a husband and wife normally would be with each other. He treats her like an immature child of a friend instead of a woman and wife. "I suppose John never was nervous in his life. He laughs at me so about this wallpaper" (723). By laughing at her condition and not rationally speaking to her and getting her to talk about the problem she has, John is only driving her to hide the feelings and keep her thoughts in the paper she writes. Keeping her under watch and not letting her have a sense of freedom, could symbolically be another piece of the wallpaper pattern that she tries so desperately to break free from. "I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how much I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia, but he said I wasn't able to go" (725). Perhaps this trip to Uncle Henry and Julia's might have helped her regain her sanity by being around people who would socialize with her without giving her a sense of being guarded and watched over like a shadow. By denying her the right to travel, John could have worsened the condition of her anxiety.
From being expected to live her life a certain way and not having a healthy family relationship, the narrator's undoing is within the confinements of her own personal prison, guarded by John and the other characters. A bolted bed and barred windows are the under lights of her day compared to the grotesque wallpaper she describes. "I lie here on this great immovable bed-it is nailed down, I believe-and follow that pattern about by the hour" (725). All she has to do in her prison is stare at the wallpaper until it comes to life in her mind. She can not find anything else to do because she is being confined and it creates the very unraveling of her sanity as she comes up with thoughts of things being inside the paper. What was once just simple designs on a wall seem to have life to her at this point. "There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous" (726). The shapes she mentions could possibly be her mind creating a story of the wallpaper, as until now the paper seemed to just be shapes with designs and patterns to her. The narrator begins giving the wallpaper life, or personification due to having nobody else to socialize with and it only makes her matters worst.
However, the narrator's problem originated from post partum depression which is something that a person can pull themselves from and regain happiness over time. Time and social interaction with people could easily help and even cure her problem. If John had let her interact and travel with him she could have eventually felt closer to him to feel comforted and cared for in the way she lacked. Her feelings of depression only grew from the anxiety of feeling alone in the room she was in, which is what turned a temporary feeling into a permanent flight from sanity. Thinking her case is temporary would be as short sighted as John's thinking towards her 'self cure'.
At the point of giving the wallpaper life, the narrator shows signs of mental decline even further when begins tearing off the wallpaper and hiding as she does it. "I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can't do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once." (728). By making sure that John and the others do not see her tearing off the wallpaper, the narrator is assuring that she does not further worsen their fears of her depression and anxiety for if they found her doing this, they would surely have her sent away for further treatment. As John begins to knock on the door to have her open it, she does not let him in, but instead has him find the key downstairs to unlock it as she tears away at the wallpaper, he managed to get in and find her at her point without return. "I kept on creeping just the same, but looked at him over my shoulder. I've got out at last, in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back" (731). As she is caught, her anxiety is at a point of severe height and she seems to feel that she is being conspired against, a sign of schizophrenia, perhaps, or delusion of them trying to help her help herself. This behavior is what makes her truly insane past the point of not being able to function properly in a society. Not only can she not fit in with average people with expectations that she cannot meet, but she cannot socially function inside of her family life either. Her nature only worsens throughout her writing and her mental health declines deeper into an anxious depression. She slowly unraveled in a prison where she was expected to get better by herself, but she obviously needed more help than she could have got from her own mind.
Gillman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." Exploring Literature: Writing and Arguing About Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. Ed. Frank Madden. 4th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. 720-732. Print.