The Yellow Wallpaper: A Critical Analysis
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“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a short story by an American author, Charlotte Perkins Stetson. The story is a collection of journals by a woman whose husband has confined her t a bedroom devoid of any item that can mentally stimulate her. This is because the physician has prescribed absolute rest for the woman’s ailment, a temporary nervous depression. However, this confinement does not work out as expected. Therefore, the thesis of this essay is that confinement of individuals with mental disturbances is not an effective way of treating them.
In this story, the woman’s husband, who is also a physician, ensures that she is completely isolated from the outside world and anything that would engage her mind. He forbids her from working and confines her in an upstairs bedroom where she can recuperate from “a slight hysterical tendency” (Stetson 648). There is also a deliberate effort to ensure than nobody kept in this room escapes. The windows are barred and there is one gate through which the physician can monitor and control the patient’s movements.
To begin with, there is no proper diagnosis of the patient’s condition. The narrator may not actually be sick. This is a case of a clash between the narrator’s creativity and her husband’s rationality. It appears that the narrator does not get sufficient room to express herself in a manner she knows best: writing. The narrator says: “I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus…” (Stetson 648). The narrator believes that her condition would be much better if the society, including her husband, realized the urgent need to afford her the freedom that she craves for. She needs to exploit her creativity, failure to which she becomes mentally unstable. Therefore, putting her in confinement would worsen her psychological make-up and instead of healing, she degenerates into psychosis. As such, confinement is not an effective way of treating such individuals.
Secondly, repression of the narrator’s creativity is responsible for her mental breakdown. In a bid to restrict her imagination, the physician, who is also her husband, confines her in a drab room whose notable thing is only the yellow wallpaper. The woman’s desperately imaginative mind latches onto the yellow wallpaper, creating visions of her own. In this wallpaper, the woman is able to connect with other women who have undergone the same fate. Her repressed mind sees a woman trapped in the yellow wallpaper. She is probably having a look at herself because she has been confined in this room. The yellow wallpaper comes alive at the touch of her imagination: “I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have!” (Stetson 650).
Thirdly, the narrator’s husband does not seem to know his wife well. Had he known his wife well, he would have realized that confinement would have been no barrier to her imaginative mind. The woman has always been imaginative since her childhood. In fact, she does not need much to stir her imagination. To her, any object can be the center of her imaginative mind. The narrator confesses: “I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children would find in a toy-store” (Stetson 650). Imagination is the narrator’s passion and source of entertainment. Mundane objects like blank walls and empty furniture can give her more entertainment than kids can find in a toy-store. As such, it would be an exercise in futility to confine such a woman anywhere. The walls, windows, the floor and anything in a room would easily spur her imagination. Therefore, confinement in a solitary room could not have been an effective way of treating the narrator’s psychological problems. In fact, it worsened them.
Fourth, it is important for physicians to understand their patients first before prescribing any course of treatment. Being able to understand and share in the patient’s predicament creates trust, making the patient to open up more to the physician. The opening up of the patient is critical to the correct diagnosis and eventual treatment of the patient. However, in the narrator’s case, the physician does not take time to understand the kind of patient he is dealing with. The narrator says: “John does not know how much I really suffer.” (Stetson 649). It, therefore, follows naturally that there is no way John could have made accurate diagnosis of the patient’s ailment and take an appropriate course of action to remedy the situation. He simply does not know how much the patient is really suffering. Had he taken time to understand just how much the narrator was suffering, he would have identified the most appropriate interventions for psychological troubles. The physician would have known that confinement would only worsen the situation.
Lastly, the physician’s personal prejudices seem to have clouded his sense of judgment. First, the physician does not believe in suffering: “He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him” (Stetson 649). He believes there should be nothing that could cause suffering to anybody, much less the repression of imagination. The narrator further reveals that John does not even believe she is sick. This implies that any measures he taken upon the patient are more punitive than remedial. Consequently, he confines the woman in the room not as a way of treating her but as a manner of putting her under check.