The Yellow Wallpaper:
In the 19th century, mental illness was an uncommon issue to be discussed. The public would treat the illness only by avoiding the matter and forcing the sick to feel helpless. At that time, the medical profession had not yet distinguished between diseases of the mind and diseases of the brain. Neurologists such as Dr. Silas Mitchell treated the problems that would now be treated by psychiatrists, such as depression. The most accepted cure was Mitchell's “Rest Cure,” which required complete isolation from family and friends. It forbid any type of mental or physical energy, and required total bed rest. The harsh results of the “Rest Cure” are easily seen in the story titled “The Yellow Wallpaper” written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1891. The main character was given the “Rest Cure” and soon began to descend deeper into the traps of insanity. Before fully understanding mental illnesses her actions would be linked to “hysteria”. Hysteria was the term given to women with signs of depression. (Showalter, p. 127)
Embedded largely in women's discouraged ambitions and limited opportunities, a reaction of supposed hysteria cases occurred during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Due to rise in this type of mental illness, the period became known as the “Golden Age of Hysteria.” Authorities of the time defined the problem in terms of femininity and female sexuality. Coming from the Greek term hysteron, meaning womb, hysteria was known as a strictly female illness that was caused by women's delicate constitutions and emotionality. Many doctors believed the uterus caused it, which was why they concluded that men could not become hysterical. (Showalter, p. 129)
Hysteria was assumed a largely self-created or imagined illness. People did not generally take it, or mental illness seriously. Though hysteria became a focal point of study by physicians throughout the world. Symptoms included fainting, vomiting, choking, sobbing, paralysis, and temperamental fits. Reflecting the belief that women were prone to hysteria because they were less rational and stable than men. Dr. Edward Tilt, in a typical Victorian textbook definition, wrote: “mutability is a characteristic of hysteria, because it is characteristic of women” (Showalter, p. 129).
As more studies were conducted, however, some doctors began to link hysteria with restricted activity and sexual repression. One doctor wrote in 1879: “the range of activity of women is so limited, and their available paths of work in life so few, compared with those which men have in the present social arrangements, that they have not, like men, vicarious outlets for feelings in a variety of healthy aims and pursuits.” Strong women who exhibited more than the usual amount of forceful, confident, and fearless behavior were particularly prone to hysteria, according to F. C. Skey, a Victorian Age physician. (Showalter, p. 130)
In fact, as shown in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, strong and creative women were...