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Creating Madness In The Yellow Wallpaper

2790 words - 11 pages

     As summer progresses in the story "The Yellow Wallpaper," John's treatment of the narrator as though she were a helpless docile child becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; she sheds the skin of her adult self and gives birth to her inner child via the wallpaper. From the moment she implies she is sick, his behavior becomes more and more parental and authoritarian. Under this guise he slowly disintegrates any resemblance of an adult wife he had. At the end he's victorious because he does beget a child. Simultaneously, he's a loser because the behavior of this childlike being mirrors his own attitude toward his wife: she's defiant and assertive and runs right over him. The tables have reversed.

In the beginning of the story, John laughs at her feelings about the queerness of the estate he has rented for the next three months. He acts as if her imagination has gone wild. Clearly he does not see her as his equal but as an undeveloped being who would entertain such nonsense. John "has no patience with faith" and "he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen" (Gilman 178). John does not have the patience to deal with a lesser being's outlook. It takes a great deal of patience for a parent to deal with the inner workings of a child's imaginative mind.

 

John and his brother-in-law, both physicians, refuse to believe she is really sick. Instead they assume she has "a slight hysterical tendency" (178). In their eyes depression is not an illness but a symptom of being a female. John has "forbidden her to 'work'" (179). Very often parents don't believe children when they say they are sick. Adults think that children blow things out of proportion in order to get their parents' attention. His prescription for her problem is to have no "excitement and change" (179). An invigorating environment might stir her up more than he can handle. As Conrad Shumaker writes, "John wants to deal only with physical causes and effects: if his wife's symptoms are nervousness and weight loss, the treatment must be undisturbed tranquility and good nutrition" (591). He knows how to treat the physical body but not the soul.

 

John takes her sensitivity as a sign of lacking "proper self-control" (Gilman 179). Because of his callous opinion, she must hide parts of herself. This reminds the reader of a parent telling a child to grow up. The colorful, sensitive side of her psyche is being pushed aside for his more black-and-white male perspective. His view is one of a colorless world that is cut, dried, and neatly organized with no room for varying shades. If he can't see or touch it, then it doesn't exist. Beverly Hume writes, "John is mechanistic, rigid, predictable, and sexist; he 'combines' as Rachael Duplesis notes 'the professional authority of the physician with the legal and emotional authority of the husband'" (478).

 

Not only does John not sleep with her, but he decides they will take the "nursery at the top of the house"...

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