Repression And Depression In “The Yellow Wallpaper” By Charlotte Perkins Gilman


Nowadays, society mostly acknowledges the importance of treating women equally and paying sincere attention to their needs and concerns. However, more than a century ago, it was a common practice not to perceive females as intelligent and worthy. Indeed, the repression of women is a horrifying and long-lasting process that was particularly active in the 1890s (Özyon 115). While this unequal attitude could lead to insignificant factors, it also often resulted in major problems, including mental diseases, since women could not come to terms with the hopelessness of their situation. Thus, this topic is discussed in the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In her writing, the author highlighted the connection between repression and depression and showed the severe consequences of men’s neglectful attitude towards women, their judgments, requests, and assumptions.

How Oppression of Women Is Showed in the Short Story

To begin with, it is essential to discuss how Perkins Gilman focuses on the issue of inequality in her short story. Overall, if contemporary psychologists analyzed the relationships between the story’s main character and her husband, they would probably use the term ‘gaslighting.’ The narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a woman of high imagination and expression (Romlah et al. 185) who has her own, quite humble, needs and requests, but her husband never listens to her. For example, the narrator wants to move to another room, but even this insignificant request is not encouraged by the man – he tries to convince his wife of the silliness and senselessness of this desire (Perkins Gilman 2). While he does not use physical violence, and even his words addressed to her cannot be classified as cruel or humiliating, he still does not treat the woman equally.

Further, it is necessary to mention that the narrator suffers from a mental condition, and this fact is at the center of the story. Her husband is also her doctor, and together with the woman’s brother, he diagnoses the narrator with postpartum depression. According to researchers, it was quite common for the males of those times to consider women’s mental illnesses as neurosis or depression (Özyon 117). Even though the husband does not believe in the severity of his wife’s condition, he forces her to stay in her room and take medications (Perkins Gilman 1). The narrator claims that “congenial work” can help her recover faster, but men do not listen to her (Perkins Gilman 1). The wallpapers in the room cause her hallucinations, and the woman sees that “all those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!” (Perkins Gilman 14). Even though sometimes the narrator doubts the severity of her state, she still understands that her husband is wrong, and his treatment harms her.

Repression and Depression: How Are They Connected in the Short Story?

The section above highlights the connection between the oppression of the narrator and her mental state. One may suggest that this link is double-sided, and the narrator is in a vicious circle. On the one hand, precisely the woman’s depression makes her husband control her more, deprive the narrator of her hobby (writing), and treat her with medications, not allowing her to work or walk (Perkins Gilman). Thus, depression leads to more oppression and limitations placed by the man. On the other hand, precisely the repression and inequality the woman faces deteriorate her condition and do not allow her to feel better (Roethle 152). Consequently, in order to eliminate the impact of inequality and discrimination, the narrator needs to cure her depression and vice versa, which is almost impossible, considering the circumstances and the atmosphere in the house.

In the short story, the husband is not described as a horrible person who harasses females. On the contrary, the narrator says that “he is very careful and loving,” but when it comes to her condition, “he knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him” (Perkins Gilman 2, 3). Despite the fact that her mental illness actually makes the woman suffer, hallucinate, and sometimes be in agony, her husband does not believe her, contributing to the disease’s deterioration. Further, as noticed by Roethle, one may suggest that precisely former limitations placed on the narrator’s life resulted in such an issue (147). She blames herself for being depressed and exclaims: “I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already!” (Perkins Gilman 3). Therefore, the role the society had always been putting on females contributes to the narrator’s poor mental condition (Manzoor et al. 1065). She knows that she has to be her husband’s support and cannot forgive herself for failing this mission.

The Author’s Attitude Towards the Topic

Finally, it is informative to explore the author’s views on the connection between discrimination and mental health. It is noticeable that the short story is partly autobiographic – during her first marriage, Perkins Gilman suffered from postpartum depression, was advised similar cure, and also considered it ineffective (Manzoor et al. 1059). Consequently, her own opinion regarding the oppression of women is quite evidently highlighted in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The author’s reaction to the misogyny tendencies in society is negative. During those times, it was common for men not to take females and their issues seriously and treat them as weak, too emotional, and hysterical, but many women realized it was not right. It seems that one of Perkins’s purposes in this short story is to show that women should not be locked up in rooms but must be allowed to work so that they do not become insane.

Indeed, the readers can see the narrator being forced to rest and avoid any form of activity. However, females need to be able to release their worries and emotions safely, and being busy, having responsibilities, and engaging in various activities is the best ways to achieve that (Raouf and Sherko Ali 133). Otherwise, their feelings and concerns get suppressed to be further developed into illnesses like depression. Overall, the author describes the narrator’s condition as a dangerous state of mind that resulted from discrimination and limitations.


To draw a conclusion, one may say that, in her short story, Perkins Gilman managed to emphasize the connection between females’ mental health and experiences of inequality, repression, and misogyny. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator faces the horrors of depression: her reactions to the world are altered, and hallucinations torture her. Even though she knows what can make her feel better, the woman’s husband controls and limits her, gaslights her feelings and assumptions, and doubts his wife’s requests. In this writing, it is shown how the oppression of females can deteriorate their mental health and lead to depression. The latter, in turn, is another reason for males to exacerbate inequality and repression, making it more challenging to break this vicious circle.

Works Cited

Manzoor, M. Mohsin, et al. “The Yellow Wallpaper”: A Psychoanalytical Parallelism Between Character and Author.” PalArch’s Journal of Archaeology of Egypt/Egyptology, vol.19, no. 1, 2022, pp. 1059-1068.

Özyon, A. “A Journey of Feminist Rebellion Through Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Short Story “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Her Novel Herland.” International Journal of Language Academy, vol. 8, no. 5, 2020, pp. 115-124.

Perkins Gilman, Charlotte. The Yellow Wallpaper. Gothic Digital Series, 1892.

Raouf, Chalak Ghafoor, and Helan Sherko Ali. “The Helpless Angel in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies, vol. 6, no. 3, 2018, pp. 130-136.

Roethle, Christopher. “A Healthy Play of Mind: Art and the Brain in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” American Literary Realism, vol. 52, no. 2, 2020, pp. 147-166.

Romlah, Imas, et al. “Deconstruction Perspective Toward the Characters in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” Short Story.” Jurnal Ilmu Budaya, vol. 3, no. 2, 2019, pp. 185-196.