Charlotte Perkins Gilman was known in her time as a feminist intellectual. Her primary focus of writing was the unequal status of women within the institution of marriage, and she was also concerned with political and social inequality. Gilman thought that being forced to remain in the domestic sphere, prevented women from expressingtheir creativity and developing their intelligence.
She was against the institution of marriage and described the traditional family as a power structure composed by unhappy members, and in which the woman was made into an unpaid servant, the husband into a master, and the children were subject to both. This conventional nineteenth-century middle-class marriage, distinguished between the“house” functions of the female, and the “active” work of male, ensuring that women remained second-class citizens. As a consequence of this gender division, women were kept as ignorant children and prevented from their full development. In the name of “helping” her, John, the main character’s husband, misjudges and dominates his wife. The narrator has no say in any aspect of her life and is unable tostand up for herself. Therefore, sees herself forced to retreat an obsessive fantasy in which she feels in control of her mind.
This remarkable story, titled “The Yellow Wallpaper”, promoted Gilman to become very well known. The fictional story deals with marriage and a woman that has a break down due to her prohibition of self expression. The theme of the story can be compared toGilman’s personal experience. In fact, “The Yellow Wallpaper” illustrates a painful episode in Gilman’s own life. In 1886, after the birth of her daughter, Gilman was stricken with a severe case of depression. In 1935, she wrote her autobiography, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in which she describes that part of her life as inner misery and ceaseless tears, and the presence of her husband andbaby making her condition even worse.
She was then treated by Dr. S Weir Mitchell, a specialist in nervous disorders, whose treatment in such cases was a “rest cure” of forced inactivity. Mitchell believed that depression was caused by too much mental activity and, in the case of women patients, not enough attention to domestic affairs. For Gilman, this treatment was extremely harmful,because, as she was not allowed to work, she soon had a nervous breakdown.
Once she abandoned Mitchell’s rest cure, Gilman’s condition improved greatly.
As she was almost destroyed by Mitchell`s “resting cure”, Gilman attacked the treatement, through her story, suggesting its inefficiency and cruelty.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” illustrates how an already anxious mind can deteriorate whenit is forced into inactivity and kept from wealthy work.
Written in first person as a private diary, the story has as a main character and narrator a woman whose husband has confined her to the upstairs bedroom of a house rented for the summer. She has to hide her journal entries because she is forbidden from working and excersicing her mind. At that time, it was very common to diagnosewomen as suffering from a “temporary nervous depression, a hysterical tendency”. The woman is locked in the bedroom, and the windows are barred.
The story slightly describes the effect of confinement on the narrator`s mental health, and how she descents into psychosis. As she hasn`t anything to stimulate her, she becomes obsessed with the bedroom`s wallpaper, its color and pattern. "Itis the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw — not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things. But there is something else about that paper—the smell! ... The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell”.
The woman has to be passive, she cannot excercise her mind in any way...