The story of 'The Yellow Wallpaper' by Charlotte Perkins is one of the most famous accounts of madness in 19th century literature; taking the form of a woman’s journal who is receiving treatment for mental illness. Through the journal, she records her experiences and her mental life as she descends into what appears to be complete madness. Perkins is keen to stress both the singular experience of mental illness and ways in which this condition is manipulated and exacerbated by those around her. I will make the argument that it is possible to see the story as possessing a critical attitude towards contemporary social and gender relations in regards to Perkins view of androcentrism.
Perkins stated that she wrote the story after a period of being interred for mental illness, and that she was only able to recover from this illness after having ignored her doctor's advice: “Using the remnants of intelligence that remained, and helped by a wise friend, I cast the noted specialist's advice to the winds and went to work again…ultimately recovering some measure of power.” (Perkins, 2009. 300) From the start of the story, Perkins describes an uneven relationship between her narrator and her husband. The latter is a person of standing and has a respectable social position. He is therefore put in a position of authority. This is made clear in the lines: “ You see he does not believe I am sick!...If a physician of high standing...assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression -- a slight hysterical tendency -- what is one to do?” (Perkins, 2013. 76) From the start of the story, Perkins puts her narrator in a position in which she is surrounded by male authority figures who deny both her autonomy and her capacity to know herself. Perkins makes it clear that social decorum, which the narrator's husband in some represents, or at least guards, is responsible for exacerbating her illness: “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. But John says if I feel so, I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself...and that makes me very tired.” (ibid. 77)
From the choice of room to autonomy over her own feelings, the narrator is consistently denied the chance to express her own wishes and desires and to have them validated by the people around her. The sense of both duty towards and dependency on her husband is a dominate theme in the narrator's early writings. She expresses regret when she writes that “I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already! Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able, to dress and entertain, and
order things.” (ibid.) Here, mental illness is presented as both denied and caused by the social relations of which she is a part.
As the narration develops then Perkins is careful to...