Schizophrenia in The Yellow Wallpaper
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s "The Yellow Wall-Paper," does more than just tell the story of a woman who suffers at the hands of 19th century quack medicine. Gilman created a protagonist with real emotions and a real psych that can be examined and analyzed in the context of modern psychology. In fact, to understand the psychology of the unnamed protagonist is to be well on the way to understanding the story itself. "The Yellow Wall-Paper," written in first-person narrative, charts the psychological state of the protagonist as she slowly deteriorates into schizophrenia (a disintegration of the personality).
Schizophrenia manifests itself through a number of symptoms. One of the first symptoms that the narrator in "The Yellow Wall-Paper" exhibits is thought disorder. Thought disorder can range in severity anywhere from a vague muddiness of thinking to a total breakdown of mental processes. The first real hint that the protagonist is having trouble controlling her mental faculties is when she says, "I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes . . . I take pains to control myself — before him, at least, and that makes me very tired" (Gilman 426). Her mental state is again revealed a few pages later when she states, "It is getting to be a great effort for me to think straight" (Gilman 430).
Related to thought disorder is obsession, which the protagonist displays in her relentless thoughts about the yellow wallpaper which covers her bedroom walls. The narrator begins her obsession with the yellow wallpaper from the very beginning of the story. "I never saw a worse paper in my life," she says. "It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study" (Gilman 427). While this kind of observation might seem harmless, the protagonist's obsession with the paper grows as the story progresses. At one point she describes laying on the bed and "follow[ing] that pattern about by the hour . . . I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of conclusion" (Gilman 429).
Shortly after the passage above, there is another change in the mental state of the narrator. She begins to show symptoms of paranoia, another classic sign of schizophrenia. Speaking of how glad she is that her baby does not have to stay in the room with the yellow wallpaper, the narrator says "Of course I never mention it to them any more— I am too wise,— but I keep watch of it all the same" (Gilman 430). She again shows her mistrust of the people who are caring for her when she says "The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John. He seems very queer sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look" (Gilman 431). At one point she catches Jennie looking at the yellow wallpaper. She says "I know she was...