The Yellow Wallpaper is the type of short story that intrigues the reader and isnt exactly what it seems like at first glance. It is full of hidden meanings and leaves the road open to many different interpretations. But one thing every reader will probably agree on is that the mental health of the narrator of the story seems to be deteriorating towards the end of the short story. The author uses this to show exactly how she is being restricted by her husband and many other men in her life. Times were different back then, and unfortunately women werent treated as fairly as men were. They were considered weak, fragile things that needed to be cared for by a man. Therefore, society imposed certain limitations on women. In this story, the narrator starts off as one of those women who were controlled by their husband. But as her depression begins to get worse and worse, it actually becomes clear that she needs to leave this stifling atmosphere. Although she doesnt say it outright, she is tired of these limitations and is dreaming of her eventual escape. But she does not plan it as her own escape; rather, she makes up a figure on the disgusting, ugly, depressing, yellow wallpaper that had been bothering her since day one. She realizes it is a woman and knows that she needs to help her. She gets the woman out, freeing herself in the process. Her husband is in shock that she has actually freed herself. He never expected this.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman had actually suffered from a severe depression herself after giving birth to her only child. She had been put on rest cure, much like the woman in this story. The narrator is also suffering from post-partum depression as we can see when she states, 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. (Gilman 292) Although we now know that it is post-partum depression she is suffering from, back then they assumed it was just a nervous condition that can be cured through isolation. So her doctor advised her to keep away from work, family and friends as much as possible. She wasnt allowed to see friends and she especially was not allowed to write. What the doctor and her husband didnt understand, however, was that what they were doing was causing her more harm rather than good. The more and more time she spent in that room with little interaction with others caused her to fall deeper into her madness. If she had been given the freedom to mingle with other people and spend some time with her baby, she probably wouldve gotten better faster. If she had been allowed to work and write like she had before, she wouldve been able to fall back into her groove. All she thought about when she was in that room was the wallpaper and the woman shaking to get out from underneath it.
The narrator had an extremely creative imagination, which was only further ignited by her depression. Soon she realized she couldnt share any of these stories with her husband though, because he told her not to give way to fancy since she had quite a habit of story-making and a nervous weakness like hers may lead to other fancies. (Gilman 293) That can be viewed as an attempt to stifle her creativeness. Its almost as if he wants to make her believe she really is crazy. In his mind, all she is doing is imagining things. It also seems as if he wants to completely control her. So far, he does. He controls where she stays, when she eats, who she can see, and what she is allowed to do. He uses her illness as an excuse to exert his power over her. She is a fragile little woman who needs to be guided by her strong husband. She subconsciously grows tired of this and tries to escape this control he holds over her. But she is unable to do it outright, and she really doesnt even realize she wants to escape. He has taken over her ability to think for herself. So when she sees the disgusting yellow wallpaper, she quickly imagines a woman behind it. She sees a woman who is trying to escape. By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still. (Gilman 297) In the mornings, this woman behind the wallpaper is kept from her escape by the pattern in front of her. That pattern is the narrators husband. She detaches herself from this woman because only subconsciously does she realize she has to escape. Towards the end of the story, it is obvious the two women are actually one and the same.
I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did! But I am securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope- you dont get me out in the road there! I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard! It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please! (Gilman 300) That clearly shows that the narrator has completely deteriorated mentally and has even confused herself with her wild imaginations. She is talking as though she is the woman who just came out from underneath the pattern in the wallpaper. The pattern had driven her insane and it had gotten so bad that she had resorted to ripping it off the wall. Literally, she was stripping the wall of the pattern but figuratively, she was ridding herself of the restrictions that her husband (and men, in general) had put on her. She couldnt stand it any longer anymore. She didnt let anyone get in her way either. She made sure that she locked the door and threw the key out the window so Jennie and her husband wouldnt bother her while she doing such an important task. But when her husband comes home, he panics as he realizes what is going on. He begs her to open the door and let him in. The narrator then tells him that she cant open the door since she threw away the key (in other words, it is too late for her husband to get back the control he once had). He runs to get the key and manages to open the door. When he saw what had happened and realized she had escaped his control, he faints. She says, Ive got out at last, in spite of you and Jane. And Ive pulled off most of the paper, so you cant put me back! (Gilman 301) The narrator is still confusing herself with the woman she believes was in the wallpaper and this is why she says you and Jane. We never find out what the name of the narrator of the story really is, but Jane would be the best bet. She is referring to herself in the third person possibly because she, like her husband, cannot believe she actually freed herself. Not only has she freed herself, but she has stated to her husband that he cant get her back into the same position she was in before. Apparently, that would be impossible now that she has torn off most of the paper. She has completely rid herself of the total control he had over her.
Her husband was at a loss for words when he walked in the room to see what his wife was doing. Some say she committed suicide and that is the reason her husband fainted. But I believe her husband just walked in and saw that his wife had completely gone mad and he couldnt do anything to stop it. She had specifically gone against his wishes because all she was really allowed to do was sleep and rest in that room. He kept her isolated from everything so she could get better but he never expected her to rebel against him the way she had. She had gone mad in the first place only because of her husband. Of course, post-partum depression is what really set it off, but her husbands limitations on her were the real underlying problem. It was just a bomb waiting to go off. He thought the isolation would make things better, but in the end it all backfired on him. The more time she was allowed to sit in that room and think to herself, the more her subconscious mind realized she had to get out and she had to get out fast. It really is a shame that she had to figure it out that way, but in the end she ended up proving to be an extremely brave woman- especially since women in those days did not behave like that. She shocked everyone, including herself.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. 290-301.