A wife takes a country rest cure for her nerves and slight hysteria after having a baby, but restricted to passivity, she starts seeing things in the room’s yellow wallpaper as her mind descends into madness.
John controls everything for his wife. Won’t let her work, won’t let her write. She is a beautiful bird, living in her gilded, dreary cage.
This post is more rumination than review. The Yellow Wallpaper is a solid five stars; that much is easily discernible. Instead of pointing out why, I’d rather think about the meaning behind the story itself.
The rest cure was not an uncommon treatment for women dealing with depression in the late 1800s. Charlotte Perkins Gilman herself was prescribed rest by her doctor, ordering her to live “as domestic a life as possible” and was not even allowed to touch a pen. She nearly went crazy as a result, as wrote The Yellow Wallpaper as a retort.
Read the article I linked above and guffaw at the difference in the rest cure (a.k.a. “West cure”) for men, which included roping cattle on a ranch, male bonding, and writing about their experiences. Sounds like a vacation. Women, meanwhile, were confined to their beds and discouraged from even thinking.
I recently read The Vegetarian, and it left me adrift in a sea of emotions I couldn’t identify. As you can tell from my review, I still haven’t worked through my thoughts on that book and what it means. One of my reading cronies recommended The Yellow Wallpaper as a companion read to gain clarity. It worked.
In that context, the women in both books go mad from lives of complete passivity. Outside forces strip them of their identities (Doctors? Husbands? Society?).
Left with nothing, the women of both The Vegetarian and The Yellow Wallpaper create false worlds with found materials and deal with mismanaged mental illness.
Just stay away from any busy wallpaper for a while after reading.