The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a first person narrative of what appears to be a woman in the grip of madness. Written in the 19th century, it has been considered a gothic horror story, assuming that the narrator is not having hallucinations, but is actually seeing evil spirits. The more likely analysis is that the woman is suffering a nervous breakdown brought on by postpartum depression. The Yellow Wallpaper can be seen as a condemnation of the accepted psychotherapeutic treatment of the late 19th century, when what appears to be benign neglect was prescribed.
The narrator’s husband, described as a physician, says that she is suffering from a ‘temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency,’ (2). It is known that she is isolated from the rest of the household and confined to a room decorated in yellow wallpaper. This wallpaper quickly becomes an obsession. There is the possibility that the narrator is insane and none of what she tells the reader is true. Possibly she never had a baby and her insanity is more pronounced than is first assumed.
There is no way to know for certain, but the author has let it be known that the work is vaguely autobiographical and she was not insane, but rather depressed. Her hallucinations are a further symptom of postpartum depression, though the reader is not told whether or not a physiological cause for her behavior has been ruled out. Her condition worsens. Her dissociative behavior and cognitive dysfunction, as she walks the room in an endless loop, failing to recognize her husband on the floor, seems evident.
Her delusion of being trapped in the yellow wallpaper is noteworthy (15). It is difficult to evaluate a work of fiction when the author is deliberately vague, but the available evidence points to what may be a hormonal imbalance, leading to postpartum depression, hallucinations, cognitive dysfunction, delusions and madness.
Gilman, C. , 1989, The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings, New York: Bantum Books