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The Yellow Wallpaper: The Catalyst of Postpartum Psychosis Close"It is the strangest yellow, that wallpaper!" (87).

In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," the protagonist is driven insane by moldy, decaying and vile yellow wallpaper. The protagonist, though never named, is loosely based on Gilman herself. The wallpaper symbolizes the bars on her proverbial prison cell that her husband, John, has trapped her in. "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a story about a woman's escape from what she believes is the domineering and chauvinistic world in which men dominate and women are expected to be subservient into a postpartum delusional land of grandeur filled with wild nightly escapades and eventual freedom from an oppressor that does not exist. Charlotte Anna Perkins was born in Hartford, Connecticut to Frederick Perkins and Mary Westcott. Her father abandoned their family in 1866, leaving Mary to move the children from relative to relative. (Liukkonen 1) She was largely self-taught. She married her first husband, Charles Stetson, in 1884. Throughout her childhood, Gilman suffered periodic bouts of depression. After the birth of their daughter, Katherine, she suffered from postpartum depression. She sought treatment with Dr. Silas Weir. He instructed her to stay in bed and not write. Gilman's reaction to the doctor's advice inspired her to write her most prestigious short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper." Gilman and Stetson separated in 1888, and officially divorced in 1894. Her next marriage was to cousin George Gilman, a New York lawyer. For the next two decades, Gilman gave lectures on women's issues. "Gilman refused to call herself a 'feminist'- her goal as a humanist was to campaign for the cause of women's suffrage. Gilman saw that the domestic environment has become an institution which oppresses women" (Liukkonen 1). "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a satire about the dangers of female conformity. In 1935, she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. On August 17, 1935, Gilman, an advocate of euthanasia, took her own life with the aid of chloroform. The woman in "The Yellow Wallpaper" suffers severe anxiety attacks after the birth of her child. To help his wife rest, John rents an old mansion for them to reside in until she recovers. John tells his wife she has to rest and not do anything, including her beloved writing, until she is well again. However, writing is the one thing she finds comfort in, so she writes about the wallpaper. "The color is repellent, almost revolting: a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others" (79). With nothing to do all day but lay in bed and secretly write, the narrator obsesses over the wallpaper. Her obsessions lead to delusions and her delusions to action. She finally rips down the offensive paper and frees herself from the prison of her mind. Postpartum Depression is the type of Depression present immediately following childbirth. During pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone are abundant; but after the birth, their levels rapidly fall (Roca, After Pregnancy). There are many symptoms of Postpartum Depression: crying, loss of appetite, loss of motivation, erratic sleeping patterns, overwhelming feelings of melancholy and worthlessness, rapid weight gain or loss, and suicidal ideations. Postpartum Psychosis is far less common; less than one percent of women suffer from it. It differs from Depression in that it includes hallucinations, delusions, sleep disturbances, obsession, and homicidal and suicidal thoughts (Roca, Differences). There are many, many methods used to treat Postpartum. However, the most popular two are Talk Therapy and medication. Talk Therapy is usually the first step in overcoming a mental illness, postpartum or otherwise. The patient sits with a therapist and discusses every miniscule

thought in their head. The therapist listens, and helps the patient learn to overcome the way Depression makes them feel, think and act. The second method involves a licensed Psychiatrist. The doctor will prescribe one of many antidepressants and/or antipsychotics. It is unfortunate that such treatments were not available in the 19th century. The narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" suffers delusional episodes from postpartum psychosis. She becomes ill immediately after having a baby and admits she likes life better without it (84). She is a masochist, choosing to believe she is sick even when her husband, a physician, says she is improving. "'Bless her little heart!' said he with a big hug. 'She shall be as sick as she pleases!'" (85). She thinks her husband and his sister Jane are keeping her locked up as a punishment when in reality John is trying to keep her well. She thinks he is pretending to love her so he can keep her locked up (89), but it is not so as John genuinely loves her. She uses the wallpaper as a catalyst for her descent into dementia. Left alone all day while John works, she is forced to create imaginary companions to occupy her mind. She creates a woman in the wallpaper that skulks around. Eventually her delusions take over and she becomes the woman in the wallpaper, finalizing her transformation from a loving wife to a psychotic madwoman. The antagonist of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is the narrator's husband, John. He is a level-headed physician who does not believe in mental illness. He takes her to the country to heal her body only. Though in reality a loving, though close-minded, husband, the narrator sees him as her captor. She tries at one point to explain her condition to John, but he will not listen: "My darling," said he, "I beg you, for my sake and for our child's sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you trust me as a physician when I tell you so?" (85) His inability to accept mental illness ultimately leads to his wife's final episode and escape form reality. John's isolation of his wife is one of the keys to her downfall. One of the key tricks to beating Psychosis is to get out of the house. The US Dept. of Human Services recommends running errands, taking walks, occupying the mind. John tells her to do the opposite: stay in bed, stay alone, do nothing. He inadvertently made her depression worse. Another tips is to talk to the partner about emotions. John tells her not to speak of such things. Yet another mistake on John's part was to take her out of her regular home. It is counterproductive to make any major life changes in the midst of a depression. "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a very simple story. As previously stated, the narrator suffers anxiety attacks after the birth of her child. Her husband, John, sees the problem as entirely physical, rejecting the notion of emotions being involved. He takes her to an old house to recover. At first the narrator seems to improve. However, she quickly becomes obsessed with the wallpaper of her bedroom. At first, the wallpaper is just repulsive. As the story progresses, the wallpaper becomes a bit more human. "There are things in the wallpaper that nobody knows about but me, or ever will" (84). Soon, the wallpaper actually becomes a woman trapped inside the wall. "I didn't realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim subpattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman" (86). The narrator is supposed to be healing her body and resting her mind, but she cannot because

she is suffering from postpartum depression. Obviously, there is no woman in the ugly wallpaper. The woman is merely a hallucination brought on by a chemical imbalance in the narrator's mind. The climax of the story occurs as the narrator finalizes the personification of the wallpaper. She states that she will catch the woman if she tries to escape with a rope she has hidden from Jennie, John's sister (90). She contemplates suicide at one point but quickly reconsiders: I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try. Besides I wouldn't do it. Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued (90-91). Though she does not physically commit suicide, that notion gives way to the death of her reality. She becomes the wallpaper woman. "I wonder if they all come out of the wallpaper as I did!" (91) When John finally gets to her, she is too far gone to be rescued from her delusion. "'I've got out at last,' said I, 'in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so that you can't put me back!'" (91) In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the yellow wallpaper is a symbol itself. It represents the prison walls the narrator feels trapped in. She feels that her husband is trapping her in with it to torture her for being mentally unwell. Not only is the wallpaper a symbol, but it also personified. First it is wallpaper, then it is a woman, then it becomes the narrator. The story is also very ironic. John takes his wife to the place she should feel the most comfortable to heal her body. In reality the very place she was sent to rest becomes a catalyst for her downward spiral to insanity. It is interesting that Gilman chose the color yellow for the wallpaper. The common interpretation for the color yellow is that it's a cheery, happy color. However, with a little bit of research, it becomes apparent that yellow is far darker than that. "Yellow can also be associated with illness, jaundice, cowardice, and even jealousy in some cultures" (Yellow 1). "Yellow, is cheerful but can become irritating if alone for too long. dark yellow can be oppressive" (Clan of Danu, Yellow). It also represents jealousy, aging and illness. Yellow is a very fitting color for the offending wallpaper. The narrator in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a woman suffering from severe postpartum depression with psychotic tendencies. The antagonist, John, wishes only to help his wife heal her body. In his efforts to heal her physically, he inadvertently sends her to an emotional Hell. The yellow wallpaper is purely a focal point for the narrator to obsess over. The ultimate end is the final plunge the narrator takes from reality to the land of yellow wallpaper.