Terribly written in February of 2001
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper”, portrays the life of a young woman who is suffering from a “temporary nervous depression” (Gilman 153) with “a slight hysterical tendency” (Gilman 153). Trapped in a “colonial mansion” (Gilman 152) by her physician husband, who believes that the house will be therapeutic, her mental state begins to deteriorate to the point of hallucinations and chronic paranoid delusions. Her grip on reality seems to be made worse though the story by her husband and his parental-like treatment of her. If we use modern psychological diagnostic techniques to asses the young lady’s situation, we can get a much better idea of what is ailing her than a “temporary nervous depression”. Appling these techniques gives a picture of someone suffering from a personality disorder, “a continuing pattern of perceiving and relating to the world that is maladaptive across a variety of contexts and results in a notable impairment or distress” (Kendall and Hammen 407).
One such pattern is the schizotypal disorder. It can be seen as “similar to, but not severe enough to be considered schizophrenia” (Kendall and Hammen 407). A fairly common symptom is perceptual errors in giving incorrect properties to a sensation, such as saying “I find it (the smell) in the dining-room, sulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall, lying in wait for me on the stairs” (Gilman 161) or “The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell”(Gilman 161). Later, her state of mind begins to crumble with full-blown visual hallucinations like: “The front pattern does move – and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!” (Gilman 162) and “As soon as it was moonlight, and that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern, I got up and ran to help her” (Gilman 163).
Another aspect of Generalized Personality Disorder the Gilman’s subject exhibits is the Obsessive-Compulsive pattern, which is “marked by a preoccupation with perfectionism, orderliness and control over the self and others – to the point of inefficiency” (Kendall and Hammen 412). One of her compulsions is to write: “I don’t want to. I don’t feel able…But I must say what I feel and think that in some way – it is such a relief.” She also clearly displays the almost ritualistic patterns of tracing a wood grain or carpet thread that OCD patients suffer, in her case it she is compelled to trace the lines in the wallpaper pattern: “I start, we’ll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion” (Gilman 157).
Finally, thrown into the young lady’s mix of mental distress is clear evidence of a paranoid personality disorder. People with paranoid symptoms are “pervasively suspicious of others and distrust their motives” (Kendall and Hammen 407). Gilman’s character begins to display these signs saying that her husband “pretended to be very loving and kind. As if I couldn’t see though him!” (Gilman 163). She obviously does not trust her sister-in-laws motives saying, “Jennie wanted to sleep with me – the sly thing!” (Gilman 163). She doesn’t even believe that her diary is safe from being read when she writes, “I have found out another funny thing, but I shan’t tell it this time! It does not do to trust people top much” (Gilman 162).
Patients suffering from these disorders lead painful lives that often lead to complete breakdowns or suicides. The medical and psychological treatments for these kinds of disorders have recently come leaps and bounds, even in the last ten years, and so medical knowledge of the late 1800’s probably could not offer suitable relief of the misery that patients suffered. After my extensive analysis of the main character’s situation and mental health, I would most likely prescribe extensive writing and as much time away from her husband as possible.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wall-Paper” Literature: Reading Reacting, Writing. Eds. Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen G. Mandell. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1994. 152-165.
Hammen, Constance and Philip C. Kendall. Abnormal Psychology: Understanding Human Problems. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998. 406-229.