A Woman’s Descent to Madness Essay
A Woman’s Descent to Madness
The short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” penned by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is one of the most recognizable texts in feminist literature. The story conveys the struggle of a woman who seeks to break away from the limits imposed by the patriarchal society she lives in. Gilman conveys her message through the experience of a woman who suffers from depression and eventually becomes insane due to the images she sees on the wallpaper. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman explores the evolution of a woman’s hallucination and her path to insanity.
In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the text itself reflects the descent of the protagonist into madness. According to Thrailkill, in Gilman’s story, “both the narrator and the narrative become increasingly unhinged” (526). The way the story was written reveals the evolution of the narrator’s hallucination and her eventual insanity. The narration starts with coherent paragraphs; as she becomes insane, her narration begins to consist of shorter sentences. Hedges writes: “the curt, chopped sentences, the brevity of paragraphs…
convey the taut, distraught mental state of the narrator” (qtd. in Goodman 129). At the beginning of the story, the nameless narrator is still in a stable mental state. She clearly states her situation: She and her husband have moved in an ancestral home for the summer to allow her to recover from her illness, which has been identified as “temporary nervous depression” (Gilman 1). Thus, she appears coherent and perfectly normal. However, upon her arrival in the room, she takes notice of the wallpaper that would soon drive her mad.
Its pattern catches her attention: “It is dull enough to confuse the idea in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study” (Gilman 2). After two weeks in the summer residence, the hallucination of the narrator begins. The narrator starts to perceive the pattern of the wallpaper to have certain body parts. She says: “There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down” (Gilman 3). After the Fourth of July, her fascination with the pattern continues.
She begins to appreciate her room because of the wallpaper and she spends most of her time following its pattern (Gilman 4). The hallucination of the narrator persists. Her fixation on the pattern causes her to identify the shape of a woman. The narrator says, “It is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern” (Gilman 5). This statement signals how the mental condition of the narrator deteriorates. She continues to see images in the wallpaper, and she sees these images in motion. Soon, the hallucination intensifies.
After the narrator recognized the shape of a woman behind the pattern, she begins to follow the actions of this woman. The madness is slowly becoming apparent as the narrator becomes preoccupied with the activities of an inanimate object. According to the narrator’s observation, the woman wanted to get out of the wallpaper. Gilman writes, “The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out” (5). The narrator keeps herself awake, trying to determine the movement of the pattern. In addition, the narrator consistently observes the wallpaper in the moonlight.
She sees the outside pattern appear as bars in the moonlight, trapping the woman behind the pattern. Her fixation on the wallpaper causes her to view the outside pattern as a prison for the woman in the wallpaper (Gilman 6). The hallucination of the narrator is not the only indicator of her failing mental state. She also reveals extreme paranoia in the midst of her preoccupation with the wallpaper. The narrator has no intention of telling the others about the images she sees in the wallpaper; she wants the woman in the wallpaper to be her own little secret. She says, “I am determined that nobody shall find it out but myself!
” (Gilman 6). She is determined to keep the woman as a secret, which is why she is bothered whenever she sees her husband John or her sister-in-law Jennie staring at the paper. Her paranoia and intention to keep the wallpaper woman for herself are signs of her mental instability. As the hallucination continues to worsen, the narrator’s sense of smell is also affected. Not only is she seeing inanimate images move, but she also begins to smell certain things. According to the narrator, the wallpaper has a smell to it and this particular smell follows her around.
She narrates, “If I turn my head suddenly and surprise it—there is that smell! ” (Gilman 7). In the end, the narrator has determined the kind of smell that bothered her: “a yellow smell” (Gilman 7). Her fixation on the smell is another proof of her deteriorating mental state. Finally, the narrator’s descent into madness becomes complete. According to her, the woman in the wallpaper is struggling to get out. She is convinced that an inanimate pattern is capable of movement. In the ultimate act of insanity, the narrator tries to help the woman in the wallpaper break free from her prison.
She peels off the wallpaper as the woman shakes her way to freedom: “I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled” (Gilman 8). Then, she locks herself in the room to peel off all the remaining wallpaper. In the end, the narrator becomes completely mad as she crawls over her husband the way she saw the woman crawl in the wallpaper (Gilman 9). In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman shows the readers the transformation of the narrator. From a woman suffering from depression, she begins to experience hallucinations and is eventually overwhelmed by it.
The narrator has absolutely become mad in the end, as she tried to help an inanimate object escape her prison. Indeed, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a text which reveals the evolution of a woman’s madness. Works Cited Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper. ” College of Staten Island Library. 17 June 2009. <http://www. library. csi. cuny. edu/dept/history/lavender/wallpaper. html>. Goodman, Lizbeth. Literature and Gender. New York: Routledge, 1996. Thrailkill, Jane F. “Doctoring ‘The Yellow Wallpaper. ” ELH 69. 2 (2002): 525–566.