What struck me about “The Yellow Wall-paper” was the infantilization of the narrator and the dismissal of what is probably a real illness as “a slight hysterical tendency” (1684). The narrator is literally treated like a child by John throughout the story. John refers to her as a “blessed little goose” (1686), “little girl” (1690), and says things like, “Bless her little heart!” (1690). He is also constantly reminding her not to “let any silly fancies run away with me” (1689). Furthermore, the narrator believes her room was once a nursery.
What further interests me about this short story is the background information about the treatment of women’s psychological disorders at the time (both in the footnotes and in the short biography of Gilman). Women’s “hysteria” was attributed to their reproductive organs and the treatment for these disorders was often, both in the story and in Gilman’s life, extended bed rest and the avoidance of intellectual pursuits. To me, this speaks volumes about the attitude towards women during that time- curing nervous disorders by avoiding intellectual activity implies, to me, that intellectual activity was thought to be harmful to women. In “The Yellow Wall-paper,” the treatment of bed-rest seems to lead the narrator, who is obviously an intelligent and creative woman, to retreat more and more from reality. The narrator says, “personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good,” but John ignores this in favor of bed-rest(1684).
The infantilization of the narrator, as well as the “treatment” of her nervous disorder, is what I believe leads to her obsession with the yellow wall-paper. Having no other way to occupy herself or express her creative and intellectual capabilities, she becomes totally occupied with deciphering the pattern of the wall-paper, essentially losing her sanity in the process.
Do you all agree with this interpretation? What do you make of the woman “creeping” that the narrator sees outside? And what is your interpretation of the end of the story?