Her physician husband, John, and those like him do "not believe" that she is "sick" or even, in her view, capable of understanding her sickness, so "what," she asks, "can one do?" (Hume).
How can one view this passage without seeing a total lack of communication in a marriage? The narrator even goes so far as to say, "It is so hard to talk to John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so" (Perkins Gilman). From a purely logical standpoint, John's wisdom and the fact that he loves her so would seem to naturally suggest that he would be the most receptive person to listen to the narrator's discussions, but other things that the narrator says reveal John's patronizing attitude towards her. Instead of caring for her, John absolutely ignores the narrator's suggestions about what she thinks may help heal her. Dismissing her entirely, he not only does not understand her sickness, but actually seems to disbelieve her reports of her own feelings. The narrator clearly feels like she cannot communicate with John. In fact, she cannot even allow John to uncover her journal, in which she is communicating with herself, because he would not even be able to understand that communication.
In fact, when one examines "The Yellow Wallpaper," for the subtext of the communication between the narrator and John, it becomes difficult to embrace the assumption that the narrator is actually insane. In fact, the knowledge that the narrator is insane comes from John's diagnosis of her. However, how can a doctor diagnose a patient, even if that patient is his wife, if he refuses to listen to her, laughs at her, scoffs at her, and generally treats her in a patronizing manner? Denise Knight suggests that "The Yellow Wallpaper" is not a description of a woman's descent into madness, but an expression of her anger towards her husband:
Throughout "The Yellow Wall-Paper," the narrator… is at odds with her husband, who seeks to control her behavior and to subdue what he believes to be her overactive imagination. In addition to protracted rest and a specially prescribed diet, a significant part of the narrator's rehabilitation involves the active suppression of her "fancy," which John perceives as "dangerous." If we do a strictly rhetorical analysis of the manuscript, in fact, an intriguing pattern emerges. The story contains ten allusions to the narrator's "fancy" or to her "imaginative power and habit of story making," nine uses of the word "nervous," and only four references to her being "angry." That the narrator emphasizes her nervousness over her wrath suggests that her anger is subordinated to the more pressing concerns about her health, which she believes would improve if she were only allowed to indulge her imagination through writing…Along with the prohibition against writing, John usurps power in countless other ways: not only won't he hear of moving into one of the "pretty rooms" downstairs, but he also rejects his wife's appeals to change the wallpaper, refuses to allow her to visit relatives, instructs her to get back into bed, threatens to send her to Dr. Weir Mitchell if she doesn't "pick up faster," dismisses her concerns about her treatment, and denies her request to return home early. Certainly, then, she has ample cause to be angry with John, who appropriates all power by insisting on her obedience (Knight).
What Knight suggests is that the narrator's destruction of the room and creeping behavior is not a woman who has gone insane, but a woman who is finally being allowed to communicate, though not by words, her extreme anger at her husband. If one removes the spousal relationship from the story and looks at in a different context, this point-of-view seems much more likely than that of a crazy woman. Had John been a stranger to the narrator, locked her in an ugly room, kept her from writing in a journal, kept her child from her, refused her requests to leave, kept her from seeing her family, would her acts of destruction against the room have been seen as madness, or the normal and expected acts of a prisoner?
While neither of these stories shows ongoing dialogue between the spouses, they do reveal a tremendous amount about communication or lack of communication between spouses in the late 1800s. The wives, legally reduced to the status of chattel, cannot effectively communicate with their husbands. This leads them to feel a great deal of ambivalence and anger towards their husbands. In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator manifests this rage by destroying the literal prison her husband has made for her. In "The Story of an Hour," Louise is amazed at the joy she feels upon the death of her husband, because she did not acknowledge having any negative feelings towards him. Both reactions show women who have been unable to communicate their feelings to their spouses, and the dramatic results that can happen because of such a lack of communication.
Golden, Catherine. "The Writing of 'The Yellow Wallpaper': A Double Palimpsest." Studies in American Fiction. 17.2 (Autumn 1989): 193-201. Rpt. In Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Vol. 201. Detroit: Gale, Literature Resource Center.
Deneau, Daniel P. "Chopin's The Story of an Hour." The Explicator. (Vol. 61). .4 (Summer 2003): p210. Literature Resource Center.
Managing madness in Gilman's "The yellow wall-paper"
Hume, Beverly A.
Studies in American Fiction
Studies in American Fiction v. 30 no. 1 (Spring 2002) p. 3-20
California Law Review, Inc. From the Second Sex to the Joint Venture: An Overview of Women's Rights and Family Law in the United States during the Twentieth Century Author(s):
Herma Hill Kay Source: California Law Review, Vol. 88, No. 6, Symposium of the Law in the Twentieth Century (Dec., 2000), pp. 2017-2093 Published by: California Law Review,
'I am getting angry enough to do something desperate': The Question of Female 'Madness.'
Author(s): Denise D. Knight
Publication Details: "The Yellow Wall-Paper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Dual-Text Critical Edition. Athens:…