Charlotte Perkins Gilman once said, “There is no female mind. The brain is not a sex organ. As well speak of a female liver” (Brainyquote).
Gilman believed that men and women should be on equal ground, an opportunity that was denied to women of the time. Gilman based her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” on her experience with severe depression after the birth of her daughter and being prescribed the “rest cure”. The narrator of the story is also the patient of the story. She keeps a secret journal in which she writes her slow descent into insanity. The narrator experiences something similar to postpartum depression. She wants to leave the room, to which she is confined by her doctor, who is also her husband, John, and experience the world.
Her husband, thinks he knows better and disregards his wife’s feelings. John forces his wife to stay in the room covered with yellow wallpaper as treatment for her illness. Eventually, this treatment leads to the wife’s hysteria worsening until she tears her way through the wallpaper and out of the room. Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” reinforces themes of relationships, feminism, and mental illness. The decaying marriage between the narrator and her husband, John, is emphasized by the narrator through the story.
The narrator, a woman, is powerless against her husband, who determines what she does, what she sees, and where she goes while she recovers from her “illness”. Although he has good intentions, John ends up treating his wife almost like a small child. At the beginning of the story as they move into their new vacation home, the narrator mentions that “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” (Gilman). John is laughing at the narrators silly ideas about the house they’ve taken; she tries to blow it off by saying that is just what marriage is like. The narrator tries to play the role of a “good wife”. The narrator also mentions that John doesn’t really believe she is sick, and forbids her to work.
She disagrees, but supposes he is right, so she gives in. The tension makes her “unreasonably angry with John sometimes,” which causes agitation (Gilman). The narrator then says she takes “pains to control myself–before him, at least”(Gilman).
She says that “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction”(Gilman). This indicates that John enjoys the feeling of control, like he is taking care of her. The reality is he might go overboard and be a bit manipulative and controlling. In the end, the narrator acts in anger towards John and locks him out of the room as she reaches the brink of insanity, while tearing down the wallpaper. All these things point to a relationship that is outwardly polite, but inwardly forced, strained, and unhappy. Locked away in a mental prison of her husband’s manipulation, the narrator is the embodiment of the struggles faced by women in seeking freedom of thought.