Considering that the rest-cure prescribed to the protagonist in the Yellow Wallpaper can be regarded as a symbol of female oppression, the research paper will aim to answer the following question: was the standard 19th-century treatment for a nervous breakdown in women a method for forcing them into traditional social and behavioral roles?
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The rest-cure described by Gilman in her story was a form of physical imprisonment for the protagonist as it restricted her behaviors: “So I take phosphates or phosphites—whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again.” Notably, any of her attempts to write were met with “heavy opposition.” It is possible to say that the forbiddance to write is particularly meaningful in the story considering that other characters might think that writing (an activity that was traditionally associated with males) was one of the main reasons leading her to the breakdown.
Additionally, the main form of psychological imprisonment was the character’s obedience to her husband who did not believe in her sickness and did not allow her to think that it was something more than a “temporary nervous depression.” Due to his “loving” yet paternalizing approach, she found it difficult to express herself and plunged into deeper psychological distress.
Inward and Outward Experiences
When the woman escaped from the wallpaper, as the protagonist put it, she was freed from the psychological constraints imposed on her by the society (from her inward perspective). Before that, she had to comply with norms and strive to meet others’ expectations even when it was against her instincts and individual aspirations.
After the woman escaped, she felt joy and relief for the first time after her sickness and was able to do anything she wanted: “It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please!” At the same time, from the outward perspective, it might look like she went completely insane because, for the rest of the society, the notion of acceptable female behavior did not change as nobody else in the story went through the same transformative experience as the protagonist.