The Need for Creative Outlet in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’

April 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

Author Charlotte Gilman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” gives a personal short story about mental health care during her time. This account is personal, as the character in the story has experiences close to what author Gilman had during her period of receiving the ‘resting cure’ (Stiles). While many themes are described in the short story, the theme of passive health-care is especially prominent. The story delves into particular detail with the administration and effects of the resting cure in regards to the main character’s mental state. This paper will analyze the evidence given by “The Yellow Wallpaper” that the resting cure is not effective, give reasons why it may be due to the main characters need for a creative outlet, and examine the actual resting cure treatment.

In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the main character shows a progressive decline in her mental state, showing that the resting cure was not working. From the beginning, details in the story suggested that she was an artistic, creative person. She makes comments about the yellow wallpaper in her recounts, bringing attention to the “sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin” and the “bloated curves and flourishes- a kind of “debased Romanesque” with delirium tremens”, which is something that would only be noticed by someone familiar with art (Gilman 238 & 241). Also, her husband John makes reference to her “imaginative power and habit of story-making”, further suggesting her creative knowledge (239). With this in mind, a new outlook on her degrading mental state can be reached in regards to her inability to express herself due to the resting cure. The main character frequently references her desire to do any amount of creative exercise, saying that it would “relieve the press of ideas and rest” (239). As the story progresses, her creative intuition is turned into a negative force, as she becomes obsessive over the patterns within the yellow wallpaper. She talks of the various figments that she sees within the wallpaper, such as a “pattern that lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes” (239). However, she speaks the most about a recurrent illusion resembling a lady who is creeping along the side of the wall, the image of which eventually drove her to such insane depths that she imitated this behavior (246). Her insanity root in her imagination, and the lack of any outlet to expel her creative thoughts into, which is put into place by the resting cure.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” deals with the effects of the resting cure, giving evidence that it doesn’t work. However, it is important to first fully understand the act of prescribing the resting cure and its intentions and mannerisms. The story states that the husband is a physician, and that he doesn’t believe that his wife is truly sick, only sick with a “temporary nervous depression”, and therefore she must rest for the majority of the day (Gilman 237). This was a common diagnosis of the time period, first given by a physician called Dr. Silas Mitchell (Stiles). The administration of this treatment began with Dr. Mitchell’s time as a surgeon during the Civil War where he gave men who were injured and suffering from signs of hysteria a strict regimen of rest and nutrition, involving “rest, a fattening diet, massage, and electricity” (Stiles). This led to him to taking this treatment to his patients, who were typically “nervous women, who as a rule were thin, and lacked blood” (Stiles). The treatment received by his patients was forceful, sometimes involving force-feeding if they refused to comply with the heavy diet (Stiles).

Judging by the nature of the treatment and the number of first-hand accounts about the horrors of the treatments, it can be inferred that the resting cure was not only a falsely believed treatment, but also a method of controlling those diagnosed with “hysteria”, or any number of nervous diseases. Having to lay in bed for weeks while being fed would be enough to drive many people mad, and even more so for those who are already suffering from mental disabilities. While rest may benefit the mentally sick, so would a socially and mentally engaging activity. The main character in the story spoke of her desire to express her creative needs, and science suggests that it would have helped her, as “creativity has much to contribute to mental health and human well-being” (Stiles). However, the resting cure prescribes the complete opposite; a very creatively and intellectually restricted day to day life. The treatments given by Dr. Mitchell described both in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and in real life accounts both lead to the same conclusion. This treatment, while being possibly effective on a small number of patients, would negatively affect most people who would benefit from some sort of stimulating outlet.

Society has come a long way since the early 19th century. If a woman suffers from postpartum depression in this day and age, society does not lock her up and throw away the key. This is what the narrators’ family did to her. As time went on the narrators’ condition deteriorated rapidly. Her family believed an idle mind would heal itself. If they would have kept her at home around the baby and society, the disorder would have healed itself. If the narrator would have been given the chance to express herself through writing, and not have had to hide it and ultimately stop writing she would not have gone insane. Ultimately, the narrator was driven to insanity.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” denounces the resting treatment as does further research into the administration and receiving of it. The main character continually exhibits a desire for a creative outlet, which probably would have improved her mental state. The story displayed the progressively decaying mind of the main character, enhanced by the large amounts of time she spends doing nothing but staring at the wallpaper on principle of the resting cure. Also, further research into Dr. Silas Mitchell revealed the peculiar nature of the resting cure, as well as the brutal methods with which it was delivered to the defiant. The lack of the continuation of this treatment speaks of its validity, and also of the experience for the patients (Stiles). Ultimately, few people would even have the means to lay in rest all day, much less would they actually wish to do it. “The Yellow Wallpaper” does an excellent job at raising awareness of this primitive cure, how it negatively affected the main character of the story, and also gives incitement to further research the resting cure which reveals its ineffective and grotesque nature.


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