Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is a story about a woman who’s described by her husband as having “nervous depression.” Although the main focus of the story is the woman’s fixation with the yellow wallpaper, the aspect that interested me the most was her husband’s belief that she wasn’t sick. This reflects the issue that many people still believe mental disabilities don’t exist, or just don’t take the time to understand how intense they can be. The woman describes her husband as “practical in the extreme” and that he “he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.” Many doctors are stereotyped as being more factual than theoretical, and this is definitely seen through the husband. However, I want to focus on their husband-and-wife relationship as well, rather than just the doctor-patient one.
With the presence of mental disabilities in a family, the recognition and response from the family is an important factor in the person with the mental disability’s life. Unfortunately, mental disabilities such as depression and nervousness are still neglected by many people. While the issue of mental disability awareness is growing tremendously, there is still a lot of work to be done; The Yellow Wallpaper does a great job of portraying this issue. Along with the wife’s husband’s belief that her sickness isn’t real, his opinions are also seen through his treatment choices. It seems as though he wants to hide her away from everyone, as if he was ashamed of her mental disability, by bringing her to the country estate house to “rest” for the summer. Especially since the woman says herself that she personally disagrees with that form of treatment and that “more excitement and change would do [her] good,” it is clear that the husband ignores her input, possibly to hide her mental disability from others. Also, the husband’s lack of understanding is evident since he discourages the things that make the woman happy, such as writing. Although the husband remains loving and caring towards his wife during the whole story, his lack of understanding for her mental disability is apparent through his stubborn treatment, causing more pain for his wife.
It is impossible for someone to make judgements about those with a disability that they don’t have themselves, yet this is exactly what the husband does. One line that particularly stood out to me was when she said her husband told her, “no one but [herself] can help [her] out of it, that [she] must use [her] will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with [her].” This line angered me tremendously because it is basically like telling someone with depression ‘not to be sad’, which is insensitive and arrogant to assume that overcoming an illness such as depression is a ‘simple’ task to do. These misconceptions about how impactful mental illnesses can be in people’s lives is a problem that needs to be fixed because it is why so many people with mental illnesses don’t get the help that they need. If the husband would’ve listened to his wife’s needs and didn’t hide her away in a room for a full summer, she might have been able to get her mental disability under control, however his decisions ultimately made it worse for he in the end. At the end of the story, it is even more clear that the husband chose to ignore the state of his wife’s condition because he was so shocked to see how intense her mental illness had grown that he fainted.
Overall, The Yellow Wallpaper is a great example of the issue of people not understanding mental disabilities and how they affect those who have them.
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