The Yellow Wallpaper is written as the diary of a physician’s wife subjected to a rest cure. She goes through a “temporary nervous depression” after the birth of her child. In modern terms, it seems like she suffers from postpartum depression caused by a stressful pregnancy.
The protagonist of The Yellow Wallpaper is an unnamed housewife. Her husband closed her in a colonial mansion for summer. In such a way, he wanted to treat her mental illness. The author describes her state as a “temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency.” It manifests in increased mood swings and irrationality. The symptoms got worse due to isolation in a small room. This confinement drives her to obsession over the yellow wallpaper. She becomes insane.
The narrator recently gave birth. Modern psychology would suggest that her original problem was maternity blues. But then doctors viewed it as a form of neurasthenia. They treated it through enforced isolation and idleness. From the modern viewpoint, such a “cure” would worsen the condition. Isolation and lack of emotional support from her husband undermined the character’s mental health.
The biography of Charlotte Perkins Gilman supports this assumption. Her experiences of mental illness inspired the story. She went through severe postpartum depression following the birth of her daughter Katharine. Attempting to follow the rest cure treatment made her mental condition worse. Gilman wrote the story as a warning about the effects of the treatment.