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John is Unaware his Wife is Slipping Away
John’s wife is losing touch with reality and he can’t seem to help her. “The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern just as if she wanted to get out.” This is how John’s wife describes seeing the wallpaper in her bedroom (pg. 625). Charlotte Perkins Stetson does an excellent job in this story, ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’, of showing us how quickly, and quietly one’s mental health can decline. John is a physician, but it never states what he specializes in. His wife’s name is never mentioned in the story either; she is only referred to as ‘John’s wife’. We follow the slow decline of a women’s mental state as her husband is powerless to assist her. ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’ paints a visual picture that it is nearly impossible to help someone with a mental disorder without getting professional help.
John’s wife is in a lull mood. She seems to enjoy writing her thoughts and feeling in a journal. However, her husband does not like for her to spend her time this way. She is in the middle of writing about their accommodations for the summer, when she realizes that John is coming, and she writes, “There comes John, and I must put this away – he hates to have me write a word” (pg. 649). She is not fond of their housing; it is run down and tattered. The wallpaper is peeling, there are bars on the windows, the greenhouse is falling apart, and the curtains are old and dirty. She is keeping this in her journal but does not want her husband to know. She is hiding her thoughts and feelings, as to not upset her him.
John’s wife mentions that her husband is a “physician in high standing” (pg. 648), she thinks that he knows what is best for her. The story was set in a time when women did not have many rights. For John’s wife to depend on him solely for her care was a sign of those times. “I have a scheduled prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more” (pg. 648). It seems that John truly does care about and for his wife. He seems to want her to get better. However, John suggests his wife’s illness is physical, I am not sure if it has occurred to him that she may be experiencing a mental breakdown.
“John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him” (pg. 649). John wants his wife to rest so that she will physically feel better. “Your exercise depends on your strength, my dear, he said, and your food somewhat on your appetite’ but air you can absorb all the time” (pg. 648). He wants her to build up her physical strength; he has done nothing to help improve her mental state. John is a physician but obviously not a doctor that has any experience with mental disorders. This new environment that she is living in is not helping matters.
John’s wife spends a great deal of time indoors. She spends quite a bit of time in her bedroom with dreadful wallpaper. “I never saw worse paper in my life” (pg. 648). The patterns in the wallpaper are flamboyant. She describes it as dull and confusing to the eye. These are subtle glimpses into her thoughts as she describes the wallpaper, “When you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide” (pg. 648).That is not a normal reaction to a wallpaper pattern. She states, “I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long” (pg. 649). She is isolated and keeps to herself the majority of the time.
John’s wife has a child that she does not take care of or see because she states that he makes her nervous (pg.649). She is slowly becoming a recluse, she begins hallucinating. She spends hours inside her own head. Insomnia has consumed her nights. She does try to talk to John about what she is experiencing. “I always fancy I see people walking in these numerous paths and arbors, but John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I out to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try” (pg. 649). She begins to distrust her husband or others in the house.
John’s wife is convinced there are women behind the wallpaper trying to get out. She thinks there is one in particular that creeps around low under the wallpaper. John’s wife begins to creep around the room imitating the movements of the women she thinks in behind the wallpaper. “I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path. I don’t want to go out and I don’t want anyone to come in, till John comes. I want to astonish him”(pg. 655). She does not want others around. She has finally slipped into her own reality.
I know at the time of this story the mental health profession had not made great advances. However, bed rest, fresh air and a hearty meal are not always going to be the answer. In this time frame I am sure that was the best John knew to do for his troubled wife. Unfortunately, hormones, chemical imbalances and numerous other factors can come in to play when dealing with his wife mental instability. ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’ is an excellent example of how mental issues can sneak up on our loved ones. We must be persistent in seeking professional help for any mental challenges that are present.

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