Thursday, April 19, 2012

changing times

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a story of a mentally ill woman and her husband’s attempts to try to get her well by convincing her that seclusion and constant bed rest is the only way to cure her psychological condition. She is forbidden to do any work, so her husband’s sister comes over daily to do housework and to make sure she does not go anywhere or do any kind of intellectual work. She is then confined to a room in which she slowly begins to go insane. Doctors once believed in the late eighteen hundreds that the rest cure would make the condition better, but they have since learned different.

The narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is suffering from postpartum depression, which was at the time, not viewed as an illness, but as a “temporary nervous depression”(11). Physicians at the time thought that this nervousness could be cured by rest and by being inactive. Because of this philosophy, the narrator’s husband takes her out into the country and keeps her confined within a house that he had rented. He makes her stay in a room that used to be a children’s playroom, but it could somehow represent something like an insane asylum. There are metal bars on the windows to perhaps keep a person from jumping out, the bed is nailed down as to prevent someone from pushing the bed around and possibly hurting themselves, and the walls are all scratched like someone once went crazy and tried to get out. The wallpaper is a horrible yellow with patterns that break every artistic rule ever made. She is forbidden to read, write, or anything else that would make her think hard, because they think that she needs no stress at all. Also she is rarely allowed to have any visitors and is not even allowed to take care of her child.

Her first thoughts of her new house are somewhat uplifting. Outside is a beautiful garden unlike one that she has ever seen in her lifetime. There are also more houses, for other people like gardeners or guests, and some old broken greenhouses. Downstairs where she wants to stay are roses on the window, old-fashioned hangings and it opens onto a piazza. Her view out of the windows upstairs has a wonderful view. She can see the garden surrounded by shadows out of one window and the other has a lane leading down to a private wharf on the bay. Also her husband tells her that he will begin to fix everything around the house one thing at a time.

She thought from the beginning that this so-called cure would not help, but since both her husband and brother recommended this treatment she went along with it. Against her husband’s will, she continues her journal writing that she had been doing secretly which she indicates to us how she is slowly growing more insane. She starts to tire very easily, even though she did absolutely nothing, because her husband and his sister did it all. As days go by her imagination starts to take over her thoughts. She starts to see things in the wallpaper, like a woman trapped inside trying to get out, which perhaps symbolized her trying to get out the confinement her husband has placed her in. Eventually she starts seeing the woman outside during the day and becomes too afraid to even look out the windows because she cannot stand to see the woman running around so fast and freely. She imagines this woman running around because she envisions herself out there running around. On the last day in the house she becomes so crazy from the isolation that she locks herself in the room, rips down the wallpaper as far as she can reach and bites the bed because she can not move it to get down the rest of the paper.

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After this story was written doctors started to change the way that they would treat this illness. Doctors nowadays have totally different views on how they treat someone with postpartum depression. They have now learned that isolation is perhaps the worst thing that they could recommend and that they should just continue with their everyday activities. They also have several prescription drugs that could be taken, like Prozac, which would help women deal with the problems that can be caused. Many also recommend they go through psychological therapy if it is too bad to deal with by themselves. Because we now know more about this illness it is not taken so lightly and is cured much quicker. Back when this story was written, they were lucky that this illness could even be cured, or even worse that the person did not kill herself from the insanity.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” demonstrates what could happen with postpartum depression if it is not treated properly. Doctors, one hundred years ago, thought it could be cured by the rest cure. It is shown, however, that the rest cure not only does not help them, but also makes them worse. The narrator in the story only became more depressed and delusional the longer she was restricted. Through many medical advances, doctors now treat this condition with prescriptions and therapy, which is totally different from the ideas of the physicians in the late nineteenth century.

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