I think I read somewhere that The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman was considered a horror story. If I did – I’ll check around for that reference – it’s the most incorrect assessment of this story. Perhaps it was the way it was marketed when it was published in the late 19th century. Horrifying in itself is when those suffering from depression are told to ignore it and think it away as the narrator describes – this book is not what I’d call a horror story or some work of entertainment. It’s a harrowing documentary of depression. Grim, real, and true.
The events the narrator shared scared and infuriated me and how worse it would become was reading her account of not being able to discuss her maladies with the people supposedly close to her and the feelings that accompanied them. She’s discouraged, practically forbidden from even bringing up how her environment is affecting her. If she tries, she’s ridiculed, laughed at, dismissed, and patronized. Eventually she’s taught to keep it to herself and then naturally so, she thinks more is wrong – with her, and she attempts to fucking make-do with where and how she is.
Am I angry?? A little…
Those around her did not help her… she tried to help herself. She’s left constantly alone with her thoughts and her prescriptions for rest and potions along with that hideously-colored wallpaper full of patterns that she’s unable to cease looking at, which subsequently turns into all sorts of antagonistic lifeforms staring back at her. That is wholly possible! And to add further detriment is having to hide her writing – her need and ability to purge this shit, from anyone because Lord help us – it’s making her think and therefore prolonging her recovery. [Of her writing, this is where she broke my heart: “It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work,” she said.] After all, the medical menfolk in her life are the ones who know what’s best for her and are the only ones capable of curing her ailments… so, she shouldn’t try to do more than what she is told.
This shit happens. The nightmare is the truth of this story is just that. This. Shit. Happens.
Eventually, the lifeforms she sees animated on wallpaper become a part of the world surrounding her off of that paper. They’re lurking in various areas of the room, outside the walls of the room, through the windows, along the grounds. Particularly one pattern of the paper has become what she deems as a woman.
So, with all that – she did become mad. There wasn’t much choice. She was forced inside of herself – for her own good, say the doctors: her husband and brother. If you don’t acknowledge it, it’s not there. It’s not a physical wound, there’s no blood to be seen; therefore, love, you’re doing fine.
Becoming an outlet from her mind as it personified itself before her, driving her towards the madness they’d claimed held her in the first place was eerily the wallpaper. In truth, the major factor was freaking postpartum depression. She was clear enough to know however how better off she was away from her baby and to acknowledge her relief of knowing the baby wouldn’t have to deal with her or even that wallpaper. Strangely enough, the paper appeared to have bothered the children who once used the room before as it had been ripped from the wall in different places.
Gilman clearly knew what depression and anxiety were. The Yellow Wallpaper is a full-on narrative that features frightful dismissals from those who think they’re helping by telling the suffering that it’s only in one’s head and to think it away. Well, that doesn’t freaking work.
Sadly, postpartum depression had no formal diagnosis then. It was just the standard “nerves” diagnosis given to women; but in this case, there’s the fortune of Gilman putting the nature of postpartum depression out for the world to see how real and dangerous it can be, along with the way it was addressed by the medical community and society.
So, me now: Running for the Hills in anguish!!! Late 19th-century mental healthcare mainly for women we knew sucked and thankfully, Gilman let us into that ignored world. Unfortunately, in this era as well, depression (and even anxiety) is still hotly contested as real or not real. And within these 29 pages of a 1892 short story, my own anxiety was masterfully antagonized. Interesting how this was my first book of the year to read…