Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s literary work The Yellow Wallpaper is often considered an important early work of American feminist literature that illustrates general social and physiological attitudes towards women in the 19th century. There are many interpretations of this story, which is impressive even after a long time. Emphasis is placed on the possible mental illness of the heroine, the feminist point of view, or the tragedy of the personality, the mother. This paper presents two topics for discussion through the prism of this story: the treatment of mental illness and the infantilization of women.
Gilman uses hyperbole to demonstrate what confinement can lead to. The main character initially appears before the reader as a fairly adequately sane woman who has just had a baby. The husband’s decision is not contested in the family, and Jane is forcibly sent to rest after giving birth. At the same time, the apparent mistrust between the spouses is manifested when starting Jane’s diary, which she keeps secret from her husband John (Gilman 6). The main character turned out to be unprepared for life’s upheavals because at a crucial moment, when a child needs a mother and a woman herself needs family support, she is left alone, alone with her fears, experiences, and potential problems. In addition, she cannot share them with anyone and therefore has to write in a notebook. Against the backdrop of all the experiences and the intimidating atmosphere in the room, Jane begins to experience mental health problems.
The author describes the infantilization of women through the main character but does not blame the female sex for this. The fateful and controversial decision to separate the family was made by John, guided by the need for forced rest. In fact, there was medical oppression of Jane, who was locked up alone with a notebook and yellow wallpaper, without contact with the natural world and the corresponding rationale for what was happening. Accordingly, the main character had the only opportunity to occupy her mind with her surroundings. Without the support of another person who could keep the girl in an adequate state, refuting the visions or conjectures, Jane gradually transformed her behavior into an inadequate, frightening one. The author deliberately exaggerates the image of a mental disorder to draw attention to this problem by society. Due to the consequences of forced rest, dictated only by the patriarchal desire of the head of the family, even John himself is left so amazed at the result that he faints (Gilman 22). Jane did not have the experience or the opportunity to diversify her leisure time and enter into the responsible role of motherhood to continue growing up and forming her personality. Instead, violent degradation occurs, and infantilization is a negative consequence of this process.
Likely, Jane’s opinion was not taken seriously in the family. John single-handedly chose to lock her up without giving her a choice. The interaction is reminiscent of parental care for a small child who cannot perform any actions independently. Perhaps this parallel will give an exceptional idea of the process of infantilization of Jane in this work. However, this phenomenon is only part of the general determinants of mental disorders. Convinced of the effectiveness of such an approach, men are never interested in the state of a woman in the process, which results in actual, almost prison imprisonment. Loneliness and lack of space, sunlight for a long time is not rest but can destroy all the protective mechanisms of a person’s adequacy and peace of mind. Unfortunately, Jane herself, reflecting the trend of that time, prefers to express her dissatisfaction with a notebook rather than her husband, splashing out emotions into the limited space of the room, which turns against her as an obsession.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The yellow wallpaper and other writings. Gibbs Smith, 2019.