Often times what is meant to help can hinder. Positive intentions do not always bring out the desired effects. The Yellow Wallpaper written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a perfect example of such an occurrence. In this short story the narrator is detained in a lonesome, drab room in an attempt to free herself of an anxiety disorder. During the era in which this narrative was written such practices were considered favorable. The narrators husband, a physician adheres to this belief and forces his wife into a treatment of isolation. Rather than heal his wife of her psychological disorder, the treatment only contributes to its effects, driving her into a severe and almost manic depression.
Under the commands of her husband, the narrator was moved to a house far from civilization in the country, in which she is locked into an upstairs room. This environment serves not as an inspiration for mental health but as a component of repression. The locked door and barred windows serve to physically restrain her. The windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls.(p514). Being exposed to the rooms yellow wallpaper is appalling and fosters only unconstructive creativity. The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.(p519). All through the story the yellow wallpaper acts as an antagonist causing her to become very irritated and distressed. There is nothing to do in the isolated room but stare aimlessly at that yellow drab wallpaper. The narrator tells of the chaotic pattern having no organization or symmetrical plot. Her continuous assessment and reflection of the wallpaper causes her much travail. I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of conclusion.(p517).
The treatment called for isolation which turned out to be a repressive aspect. The narrator did not trust isolation would improve her disorder. Social contact and outside encouragement was her only desire. I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus, but John says the worst thing I can do is think about my condition.(p513). She was cut off from society and prohibited from seeing her infant child. It is not normal to be confined to little or no social contact for large amounts of time. Society provides a mixture of of different sights, sounds, feelings and stimuli to its inhabitants. To go without outside contact would be living against natures way for mankind. To fulfill her social need she invents a person she thinks she sees inside the wallpaper. I didnt realize for a long time what the thing was that dim sub pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman.(p520). The hallucination of a woman is noticeably an indication of the ill effects caused by extended isolation. Her hallucination becomes so real that she becomes involved with her imagined character. In a frantic action the now malfunctioning narrator began to try to free the woman from behind the wallpapers pattern. She destroys yards of the wallpaper. I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper.(p522). The so called treatment contributes to her impending mental demise. She is first diagnosed with a slight nervous disorder. On her last day of treatment she is participating with hallucinations as if they are real. This observably shows that the selected cure only serves to reinforce the minor illness.
The negative qualities of the rehabilitation regimen cause her to go completely insane. I am getting angry enough to do something desperate jump out of the window would be an admirable exercise.(p523). Near the end of the story, the narrator is restless and constantly creeping around the room. Her husband goes into the room and when he sees his wife in a deranged state creeping through the torn wallpaper, he falls to the floor and faints. Now why should that man have fainted? But he did and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!(p524).
Clearly this treatment is issued with good intentions, but fails to bring about positive results. The lack of social exposure, physical repression, and horribly ugly yellow wallpaper causes the treatment to become ineffective and detrimental to the narrator. The disorder which is being treated is actually strengthened to the point of a serious mental illness. Similarly in todays society medical treatment and psychological advice may have the same effect. Unfortunately, the downfall of todays treatment will not be seen until tomorrow. Medical expertise and practice have progressed significantly since the time of The Yellow Wallpaper; this is not to say that todays doctors and caregivers are flawless. Perhaps some of todays treatments are The Yellow Wallpaper of our future.