November 02, 2004

Post-Partum Depression in "Yellow Wall-Paper"

I believe the narrator in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” was suffering from post-partum depression, although the condition had not yet been identified back when this story was written. There are only a couple of clues. The first reference occurs in the exposition:

“It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous.

And later in the rising action:

“I can stand it (the wall-paper) so much easier than a baby, you see.”

I shared the frustration that Mike expressed on his blog with the condescending treatment of the narrator by her physician husband. It is important to keep in mind however, that this type of “rest cure” was the prevailing wisdom of the age. Though she admits to embellishing some details for the sake of “carrying out the ideal”, Gilman based the story on her own experiences with depression and wrote the story to change physicians minds about the efficacy of this type of therapy.

Although she acquiesces to John and is under his control and supervision, the narrator instinctively knows (as Gilman did) that more stimulation particularly through her writing would do her good. So she writes privately though she acknowledges:

“John would think it absurd. But I must say what I feel and think in someway – it is such a relief!”

Interesting how good her instincts are, “talk therapy” is still considered very therapeutic in conjunction with anti-depressants for post-partum (or any) depression, as is physical exercise which she is also deprived of by her well-intentioned husband.

Posted by LindaFondrk at November 2, 2004 02:28 PM

Linda -

I also believe she was suffering from post partum depression; however, I am going to blog about this later. So I invite you to check that out when I post.

John was well-intentioned; however, the narrator believed she needed to do her own thing. This just goes to show the differences in males and females we always encounter in literature.

Talk to you about this later.


Posted by: Katie Aikins at November 2, 2004 04:16 PM

I blogged about this story last year, Linda. You may want to take a look: I have some links you might want to peruse, and a great conversation in the comments section, well, except for the Bingo spam.

Posted by: Amanda at November 2, 2004 08:21 PM


I saw your blog entry and was so excited to find that I was not the only individual that picked up on this aspect!!! I found it so interesting to see how little the psychology program knew during this period of time. We can now look back and state how ignorant it was for doctors to mistaken this disorder for a nervous condition!! Being a psychology major, I was literally amazed!

I am interested to hear your opinions on the ending of the story. What do you believe the women in the wall-paper represented in terms of post-partum depression? Did she actually free herself or not?

I always enjoy your comments in class discussions and I would be very interested to see your viewpoints on this as well.


Posted by: Melissa Hagg at November 3, 2004 10:31 AM

Amanda, thanks for the info! Will check it out. Melissa, thanks for the comments...I really dig psych too and that was originally my major. The women in the wallpaper existed in a sub-pattern, the one underneath the exterior pattern. The creeping women could represent the silent, troubled lives of women underneath the veneer of society. At the end of the story, she seperates from her self and becomes one of the creeping women - she refers to herself as "Jane" the persona that tried to obey John. She says "I've got out at last, in spite of you and Jane." This doesn't really mimic typical post-partum depression which is not usually accompanied by hallucinations,(although in very extreme cases I suppose one could) Gilman heightened the drama to drive home her point.
There is a definate sense of islolation from the rest of the world when you have a baby, even when you aren't depressed. Its a very strange and overwhelming feeling at first. I think my son had post-birth depression. He seemed to be very pissed-off to be on earth for the first 6 months of his life. He never smiled and after reading Dr. Spock I thought he would be a sociopath. Now he's a sweetie!

Posted by: Linda Fondrk at November 3, 2004 11:19 AM

I also saw the hints of post partum depression and wasn't sure if it was really in there untill i read your blog.My brothers girlfriends mom suffered from this, and ended up committing suicide. It made me frustrated and mad that her husband kept trying to keep her in the house to relax when all she really wanted was to get out and live life! I think the fact that he kept her trapped in this room added to her "nervous condition" Its amazing how they viewed psychological disorderes back then and all the advances we have made.

Posted by: ErinManko at November 3, 2004 02:10 PM


This was a good observation that the woman was suffering from post-partum depression. I do believe that she was indeed suffering from this illness. I am taking Abnormal Psychology this semester, so I understand some of the patterns that this woman is suffering from. I realize from the class discussion that the big debate was on whether John was controlling his wife or not. What do you think? I think it was common for men to have this attitude in the late 1800's. However, no woman would accept this behavior now. Also, he just wants to see his wife to recover fully from her illness. But I thought to myself, what if the illness is being caused by the not attentive husband?'s hard to point down what caused her depression, John or the wallpaper? What are your thoughts?


Posted by: NabilaUddin at November 3, 2004 06:05 PM

Hi Nabila, (you blogging madwoman you!) From a clinical standpoint I think the narrator was depressed, presumably from the hormonal fluctuations. The rest cure treatment exacerbated her symptoms and by today's standards was extrememly innapropriate . I don't know if it's fair to blame John though, he was merely following the prevailing medical wisdom of the day. Her obsession with the wallpaper was a manifestation of her mental illness not the cause of it.

Posted by: Linda Fondrk at November 3, 2004 06:16 PM


Yes, it seems that I am a mad blogging woman. I'm surprised that I don't blog in my sleep. LOL.. Anywayz, I enjoy blogging on your blog. It's very informative. Keep up the good work. :)

-Nabila :)

Posted by: NabilaUddin at November 8, 2004 04:58 PM

What is a blog?

Posted by: P. Diddy at November 24, 2004 08:47 PM

Linda -
I made an arguement on my blog about how I felt about the "depression" issue in The Yellow Wallpaper. Basically to sum it up, I felt that the main narrator was suffering from a type of psychotic depression which allowed her to have such extreme depression mixed with her crazy hallucinations in the wallpaper.

I didn't feel that the story in itself gave enough evidence to support that she had post-partum depression - or any type of depression for that matter. We obviously know she is experiencing a mental illness or a breakdown or sorts, but there isn't really clear evidence as to what.

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