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The Path into Madness in The Yellow Wallpaper

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The Path into Madness in The Yellow Wallpaper

 
    In the late 1800's/early 1900's, when Charlotte Perkins Gilman experienced her episode of "temporary nervous depression" (Gilman 885), and wrote her autobiographical short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," the workings of the mind were mysteries that few medical people attempted to investigate. A patient who was poor and ill-educated and exhibiting signs of mental disorder was institutionalized -- ala Bedlam. The patient who was rich, educated, and/or from a "good family" was called eccentric and given a prescription for complete mental rest and controlled physical exercise combined with the consumption of phosphorus enriched tonics. This regimen was to be followed in an environment that allowed the patient to ingest large quantities of clean fresh air (Gilman 885, 886). In her retrospective, the author was able to present a frighteningly candid view of the ineffectiveness of this last pattern of treatment.

 

      Ms. Gilman's heroine's adventure into madness started with an onset of post partum depression. This fairly common side effect of childbirth comes at the time in her life when the woman (according to society) is supposed to be her happiest, most satisfied self. However, with her mind suffering from the effects of her body's frantic attempt to realign its chemical components into a balanced state, the new mother is confronted by moods that are the antithesis of the euphoria she is told she should be feeling. This juxtaposition of expected and experienced emotions can create tremendous guilt in a woman, even a very strong woman. To mitigate this guilt, the mind can develop a psychosis, such as delusional disorder. Ms. Gilman was very perceptive in looking at he...


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... this case -- unenlightened) treatment, progressing into dementia. And she created this scenario years, if not decades, before medical science understood the relationship between the various parts of her heroine's -- and her own -- path into madness.

 

Works Cited

Danford, Darla Erhard. "Pica and Nutrition." Annual Review of Nutrition Issue 2 (1982): 303 - 322.

Decker, Chris J., MD, FRSCS. "Pica in the Mentally Handicapped: A 15 - Year Surgical Perspective." Canadian Journal of Surgery 36.6 (1993): 551 - 554.

DSM - IV Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fourth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994. 290 - 301.

Gilmore, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." Being and Becoming. Anne Mills King, and Sandra Kurtinitis editors. New York, NY: McGraw - Hill Publishing Company, 1987. 886 - 892.

 


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