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
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Classic symptoms of delusional disorder are varying degrees of visual hallucinations (although not normally as prominent as shown in the story) and olfactory hallucinations related to the delusional theme(s) or object(s). Delusional disorder does not markedly impair psychosocial functioning or cause a person to display odd or bizarre behavior when other people are known to be present. Undetected and/or untreated delusional disorder often degenerates into schizophreniform disorder, or even full blown schizophrenia, and the delusions take control over the person's mind (DSM - IV Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 290, 296 - 301). The person's every action is in response to the perceived actions of the delusion, very similar to what occurred to Jane in the story. In Jane's case, the symptoms ended up flying way out of proportion simply because she had nothing else on which to focus.

Another disorder alluded to in the story is pica. Pica is generally defined as "a pathological craving for normal food constituents or for substances not commonly regarded as food" (Danford 303). It is said to be the most frequently observed eating dysfunction of mentally handicapped persons, particularly long-term schizophrenics or those with marked personality disorders (Decker 551 - 552). While no specific reference to the heroine actually eating non-foods exists in the story, references to missing
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