A Nameless Woman Diagnosed with Neurasthenia in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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“The Yellow Wallpaper”, a story written around 1890, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, depicts a (nameless) woman with one child, married to John, a doctor who diagnosed his wife with neurasthenia, one of the nervous diseases common to women. First described in 1869 as a disease characterized by depression, extreme anxiety, and fatigue. The disease was generally understood to result from emotional sensitivity or "nervousness" on a fundamental level. John’s wife was confined, not of her choice, in a rented mansion, as a prescription for her health. (Gilman 344) John loved his wife without knowing her. He openly mocked her interest of writing and interacting with their baby, and kept her isolated most times in an upstairs nursery room with barred windows and yellow wallpaper. Her preference of rooms downstairs was not even considered. The sunshine dominated the nursery daily as John dominated each hour of her day with a “schedule prescription”. (Gilman 341) He planned every hour of the day carefully, ensuring that she would get plenty of rest without the chance to exercise her creativity. The doctor’s anecdote of his wife taking phosphates, tonics, journeys and air along with exercise was above reproach. If women had more of a voice, would approaches to treatment for mental illness have been more effective? Feeling powerless, the wife was relieved of her duties and cared for by her husband, the housekeeping was done by Jennie, her sister-in-law, and Mary cared for the baby.

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