The Exercise of Functions in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The author, Charlotte Gilman Perkins stated, “Every kind of creature is developed by the exercise of its functions. If denied the exercise of its functions, it can not develop in the fullest degree” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-paper”-The “New Woman).

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This is a very bold statement and brings my thoughts back to the psychological perspective behind her short story titled “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Both the narrator and the author have suffered or currently suffering from a mental illness.

It is clear the author is showing the effects of postpartum depression through the symbolism of isolation and the wallpaper.

My claim includes the diagnoses of postpartum depression which can be linked to the traits and characteristics of the narrator. The initial clue that leads me to believe this is what the narrator is suffering from is when she states, “There’s one comfort, the baby is well and happy and does not have to occupy this nursery the the horrid wallpaper”.

Postpartum depression is defined by the Mayo Clinic as: “The birth of a baby can trigger a jumble of powerful emotions, from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety. But it can also result in something you might notexpect – depression”. With this definition along with other key facts will reveal the psychological perspective the author developed.

There are a multitude of symptoms that can occur in postpartum depression patients the Mayo Clinic describes these as: “depressed mood or severe mood swings, excessive crying, difficulty bonding with your baby, withdrawing from family and friends, loss of appetite or eating much more than usual, inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much, overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy, reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy, intense irritability and anger, fear that you’re not a good mother, feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy, diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions, severe anxiety and panic attacks, thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-paper”-The “New Woman).

Throughout the story the reader can pick up many of these symptoms that the narrator is facing. Some of these include, severe mood swings, excessive crying, withdrawing from friends and family, fatigue, and severe anxiety. The major symptom the narrator experienced were delusions and hallucinations through her growing obsession with the wallpaper in the couples rental home. This can be caused by not being properly treated for her postpartum depression in the correct manner increasing mental side effects to an extreme circumstance.

The author uses both the wallpaper and isolation to symbol the narrator’s severity of her disorder. She initially notices the bedroom and first expresses her opinion with, “One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.” As the story continues the narrator writes some abnormal explanations of how she feels about the wallpaper including, “Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere.” This is another example of the hallucinations she was beginning to experience. Another indicator that the narrator is becoming more delusional as she writes, “The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out”. This subsequently shows the decrease in her mental health through not being treated properly for her condition.

The story progresses and along the way the narrator begins to slowly become worse. She goes on into detail as in the wallpaper she continues to see things such as eyes everywhere and the story climaxes when she finally reveals that there is a figure shaking behind the wallpaper seeming like she is trying to escape. Leading the narrator’s obsession even most intense causing her to stay up night after night watching the woman. The narrator continues to observe the women and after a few days she decides that only herself can release the woman from the wallpaper.

On the other hand, the author also uses symbolism through isolation. The beginning of from the story begins with the narrator explaining the setting of story. With excitement she explains they have reserved an ancestral hall for a short amount of time while they’re home is being updated. The location of this village is unknown but the readers know it is three miles away a village. When a patient suffers from postpartum depression isolation is not healthy and they need family support, and especially their child. I feel the author uses this symbolism of isolation to portray the severity of the narrator’s depression.

With the house so far from the village that narrator is left at home with minimal things to entertainment herself. She is restricted from writing and visiting with her friends and family by her husband. Therefore the reader can connect the symbolism of isolation to the gradual downfall she faces in the symbolism of the wallpaper.

In a psychological perspective in my opinion the author used symbolism so that the reader would truly need to read between the lines to understand that the narrator is suffering from a disease that will ultimately lead her to her downfall. Gradually over the story the narrator’s symptoms become increasingly worse while in this time period women who suffered from this was told rest, herbal medicine, and being away from the baby is the best way to cure postpartum depression. With this in mind, I believe Gilman provided clear evidence throughout the text showing a woman who was suffering and her mental state slowly declined through hallucinations causing the narrator to ultimately become insane.

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The Exercise of Functions in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. (2023, Feb 19). Retrieved from

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