“The Yellow Wallpaper: A Tragic Triumph”
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born July 3, 1860 in Hartford, and was an advocate for Feminist Social Reform and for the right to die. As a result of this she committed suicide August 17, 1935, using chloroform and choosing a quick and relatively painless death over wasting away from cancer. She had one daughter and consequently suffered from a bout of post-partum depression, a disease not yet understood in this time. As a result of this she was sent to a mental hospital under the care of Dr. Weir Mitchell and prescribed his infamous ‘rest cure’. This led to the writing of “The Yellow Wallpaper” in 1892. It was intended to educate people about the dangers of the rest cure and how she had to “save herself from ‘utter mental ruin’ using ‘the remnants of intelligence that remained,’ (King and Morris, 24). She even went as far as to send a copy to Dr. Mitchell, who never acknowledged it. In this story, the narrator, Jane, actually suffers a mental breakdown which actually functions as a metaphor between the inner struggle of fulfilling her role as a wife and mother and having an identity that she could call her own.
In the 1800’s the roles of women was very limited. Most could only aspire to be a wife, mother and a support system to their husbands. Either they were “angels in the house, loving, self-sacrificing, and chaste as wives, mothers and daughters,” or they were “she-devils and Delilahs, dangerous, sexually enchanting, but always ultimately doomed” (23). The only approved images of women were those that “reflect and sustain patriarchal ideology” and because of that were “imprisoned” and “closed off from movement and exploration” (23).
In this time period many men interpreted “a characteristic of his wife as a defect because of his own failure of imagination” and attempted to “cure [their wives] through purely physical means, only to find [they] destroyed her in the process” (Schumaker 592). Mental illness...