Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

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Inequalities within the Health System

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman is known as an innovative socialist author of many different short stories, and poems in American Literature. Charlotte Perkins Gilman is mostly well-known for her semi-autobiographical short story of “The Yellow Wallpaper”. In this short story, Gilman spotlights a main character that has been recently diagnosed with a “nervous disorder”, that was often found prevalent in women during this time period.

When analyzing a short story it is important to understand the correct context the author was writing in. For instance what gave them inspiration? There are many similarities between the main character and Gilman, hence this short story being semi-autobiographical. Gilman, like the narrator has been diagnosed with a “nervous disorder” and are both given the rest cure as a treatment. In the story, the narrator’s doctor is also her husband John, and can be interrupted as a villain because of his oppresses ways. Gilman was able to find inspiration for her character John by using her own experiences with her neurologist S. Weir Mitchell. Because Mitchell was well-known for his specialization in women’s “nervous disorders”, Gilman found it important to show the wrongs of this treatment for women.

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The rest cure was a treatment designed to relive women from their troubled thoughts. Women were often told to only rest. They were permitted to write or read or even have visitors. They were told not to leave the bed and were often given bigger portions and a diet of only milk. As the narrator describes her experience with the rest cure, she slowly starts to go insane from the effects of isolation. She often describes the wallpaper in various stages of her cognitive disturbance:

“The color is repellant, almost revolting; a shouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sun” (266).


“I really have discovered something at last. Through watching so much at night, when it changes so, I have finally found out.

The woman behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind and sometimes only one and she crawls around fast. And her crawling shakes it all over” (272).

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By using these examples in the story, we are able to understand that being in isolation is not an accurate wait to treat a nervous disorder. It will only induce more symptoms that pertain to a nervous disorder.  As quoted by Charlotte Perkins Gilman on the topic of rest cure and treating women:

“It is not that women are really smaller-minded, weaker-minded, more timid and vacillating, but that whosoever, man or woman, lives always in a small, dark place, is always guarded, protected, directed and restrained, will become inevitably narrowed and weakened by it.”


This quote helps us to understand the inequalities in the health field when treating women and how inaccurate the rest cure is at treating a nervous disorder. The rest cure was a way to make women feel inadequate from suffering from a very common and well-known disorder today called postpartum depression. This disorder is more common in women because the disorder often appears after a woman gives birth. This is what Gilman’s character had. Because this disorder was exclusive to women, male doctors saw this disorder as a way to repress women from daily activities and having power over their own health and body. Without realizing it doctors often made the women go crazy because of their treatments. Inequalities in the health system were evident because of the patriarchal hierarchy within the medical field.

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Postpartum Depression in The Yellow Wallpaper

Postpartum Depression


In Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper the woman had an unknown illness. In today’s world readers could assume her illness to be Postpartum Depression. Although, it is unknown how she got this depression I myself personally believe it is due to the birth of her child which is very common in today’s world. Back then with no women doctors this condition was falsely diagnosed so women did not get the treatment that they needed. Today luckily for women there is treatment. Some celebrity mothers have even gotten Postpartum Depression after their children were born and have fought it. With the woman in the yellow wallpaper she did not get the right help so she lost her mind. Her illness grew worse and made her crazy.


Charlotte Perkins Gilman herself was treated for Post Partum Depression after the birth of her daughter. So that could of helped her write this story from actually being in the same situation.

Some symptoms of Post Partum Depression include:

Hallucinations                                                                        Suicidal thoughts or actions
Delusions                                                                                  Confusion and Disorientation
Extreme agitation or anxiety                                           Rapid mood swings
Bizarre behavior                                                                   Inability or refusal to eat or sleep
Thoughts of harming or killing your baby                 Over worrying about the baby or not at all

in The Yellow Wallpaper the main woman has hallucinations of the woman from the wallpaper.

“I see her on the long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage comes she hides under the blackberry vines.” (272).

She worries about the baby, but she cannot be with him.

“It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I can not be with him, it makes me so nervous.” (266).

As well as rapid mood swings.
 “I cry at nothing and cry most of the time.” (268).

Back then the only cure seemed to be the rest cure. The rest cure was basically that women were delicate and needed rest. “The rest cure usually lasted six to eight weeks. It involved isolation from friends and family. It also enforced bed rest, and nearly constant feeding on a fatty, milk-based diet. Patients were force-fed if necessary – effectively reduced to the dependency of an infant. Nurses cleaned and fed them, and turned them over in bed. Doctors used massage and electrotherapy to maintain muscle tone. Patients were sometimes prohibited from talking, reading, writing and even sewing”

In today’s world treatment for Post Partum Depression is:
Individual or Marriage counseling
Hormone Therapy
Support from others
Trying to sleep, eat ,exercise
Express feelings

In 2003 Brooke Shields went through Postpartum Depression after the birth of her daughter.

She wrote a book on her battle with the disease.


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Climbing Through The Pattern


Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born July 3rd 1860 in Hartford, Connecticut. She had a somewhat difficult childhood that then followed her into her adult life. Much of her struggle could be seen throughout her work.  A great example of this would be her short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”.  The story focuses around a women who moves into a house with her husband with a strict prescription of rest cure. The story was pulled from Gilmas real life experience with her doctor, S. Weir Mitchell, who was Philadelphia neurologist.  He , like the husband John in the short story, required her to stay in bed for long periods of time. She was not to write and as put into total isolation. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the narrator described the wallpaper as,

“Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard. And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads. They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white! If those heads were covered or taken off it would not be half so bad” (Gilman 272).


The pattern symbolizes not only the rest cure, implemented by men, but also all the expectations women of the 19th century were supposed to live up to. If they tried to escape that pattern they would lose everything, their family, reputation and respect. The narrator in the story soon figures out the pattern in the wallpaper and begins to identify herself as the women behind it.

“I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it come night, and that is hard! It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please” (Gilman 274)

The women in the story lost her head, in a way, by getting completely wrapped up in the wallpaper and going crazy.  Gilman on the other hand left both her husband and Mitchell and got revenge on Mitchell by writing “The Yellow Wallpaper”.  She wrote the story to reveal the ineffectiveness of Mitchell’s practices. Gilman soon got recognized as a feminist activist, a title she declined to call herself. She traveled around lecturing women about equality and independence. Other examples Gilman’s work that challenged the idea of the women were Women and Economics, Concerning Children, The Home: It’s Work and Influence and Human Work.

To get the sense of the dark times both Gilman and the narrator went through, attached is PBS Masterpiece Theater’s 1989 adaption of “The Yellow Wallpaper”.

Gilman, Perkins Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Longman Anthology of Women Literature. Ed. Mary K. DeShazer. New York:  Addison-Wesley, 2001. 263-274. Print.

-Erica Nelson

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The Yellow Wallpaper Rest Cure

In The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the reader witnesses the narrator’s gradual slip into insanity the longer she is left alone. Below is a picture of Gilman, the author of the short story.

This story takes up ten pages in our class textbook. On the second page, the narrator tells us, “I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition” (Gilman 265). This tells us that in the beginning of the story, she is able to think rationally enough to realize she did not used to treat her husband this way. However, by the end of the novel she has lost almost all of her ability to think rationally. On the last page of the story (274), she tells us,

    I don’t like to look out of the windows even– there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast.
I wonder if they all came out of that wallpaper as I did? But I am securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope– you don’t get me out in the road there.
I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!

By this point, the narrator believes she has become the woman she has been seeing in the wallpaper throughout the story. She has lost touch with reality because she has been left alone frequently and has not been able to leave the house.

Artist Julia Callon expressed her interpretation of The Yellow Wallpaper with before and after mini “Houses of Fiction.” Clicking on them will link you to Callon’s website.


It seems the main reason the narrator went insane was that she was prescribed the rest cure. This cure recommended that women stay inside, eat frequently, and rest frequently (Martin 2007). Its intentions were to improve the mental health of women. However, for many women (including Gilman), it did the exact opposite. Gilman herself explained that she wrote this story as a way of critiquing the methods included in the rest cure in Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper. The rest cure is likely for this woman’s loss of touch with reality.

– Michelle Hole