The Yellow Wallpaper

Mental Illness and its Treatment Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Mental Illness and its Treatment Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Domestic Life Theme Icon
Outward Appearance vs. Inner Life Theme Icon
Self-Expression, Miscommunication, and Misunderstanding Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Yellow Wallpaper, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Mental Illness and its Treatment Theme Icon

Reading the series of diary entries that make up the story, the reader is in a privileged position to witness the narrator’s evolving and accelerating descent into madness, foreshadowed by her mounting paranoia and obsession with the mysterious figure behind the pattern of the yellow wallpaper.

As the portrayal of a woman’s gradual mental breakdown, The Yellow Wallpaper offers the reader a window into the perception and treatment of mental illness in the late nineteenth century. In the style of a Gothic horror story, the tale follows the gradual deterioration of its narrator’s mental state, but it also explores the ways that her husband John’s attempted treatment aggravates this decline. In one sense, then, the story is a propaganda piece criticizing a specific way of ‘curing’ mental illness. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the author of the story, suffered from post-partum depression and, in circumstances very similar to those of the story’s narrator, was prescribed a ‘rest cure’ by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, who is mentioned by name in her tale. She underwent a mental breakdown as a result of this enforced idleness, which forbade any form of writing or work outside of the domestic sphere. The forced confinement of the story’s narrator, and her husband’s injunctions against writing or other activity, mirror this ‘rest cure’ in the author’s life.

John, the narrator’s husband, serves also as her de facto doctor. As such, he is a model of traditional attitudes toward mental illness. He is driven purely by practicalities, prescribing self-control above all else, and warning against anything that he sees as indulging his wife’s dangerous imagination or hysteria. His refusal to acknowledge his wife’s concerns about her own mental state as legitimate, or to listen to her various requests – about their choice of room, receiving visitors, leaving the house, her writing or, of course, the wallpaper – ultimately contributes to her breakdown, as she finds herself trapped, alone, and unable to make her inner struggles understood. This feeling of powerlessness, of an inability to communicate, is portrayed with special horror to inspire empathy in a progressive reader, who may have been moved to reconsider methods such as the rest cure of Weir Mitchell.

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Mental Illness and its Treatment ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Mental Illness and its Treatment appears in each section of The Yellow Wallpaper. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Mental Illness and its Treatment Quotes in The Yellow Wallpaper

Below you will find the important quotes in The Yellow Wallpaper related to the theme of Mental Illness and its Treatment.
First Entry Quotes

John is a physician, and PERHAPS—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—PERHAPS that is one reason I do not get well faster.
You see he does not believe I am sick!
And what can one do?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Related Symbols: The Diary
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

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He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.

I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more.
He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

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The paint and paper look as if a boys' school had used it. It is stripped off—the paper—in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper in my life.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

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Second Entry Quotes

John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious.
I am glad my case is not serious!
But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing.
John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no REASON to suffer, and that satisfies him.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

There comes John's sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing. She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John, Jennie
Related Symbols: The Diary
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

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Third Entry Quotes

But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of wallowing seaweeds in full chase.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

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Fourth Entry Quotes

Dear John! He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia.
But he said I wasn't able to go, nor able to stand it after I got there; and I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

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If we had not used it, that blessed child would have! What a fortunate escape! Why, I wouldn't have a child of mine, an impressionable little thing, live in such a room for worlds.
I never thought of it before, but it is lucky that John kept me here after all, I can stand it so much easier than a baby, you see.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

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Fifth Entry Quotes

Of course if you were in any danger, I could and would, but you really are better, dear, whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh and color, your appetite is better, I feel really much easier about you.

Related Characters: John (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

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Sixth Entry Quotes

On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind… You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

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At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper, The Mysterious Figure
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

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Eighth Entry Quotes

It used to disturb me at first. I thought seriously of burning the house—to reach the smell. But now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that it is like is the COLOR of the paper! A yellow smell.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

There is a very funny mark on this wall, low down, near the mopboard. A streak that runs round the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a long, straight, even SMOOCH, as if it had been rubbed over and over. I wonder how it was done and who did it, and what they did it for. Round and round and round—round and round and round—it makes me dizzy!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper, The Mysterious Figure
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Ninth Entry Quotes

And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper, The Mysterious Figure
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Tenth Entry Quotes

I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can't do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

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Eleventh Entry Quotes

I have found out another funny thing, but I shan't tell it this time! It does not do to trust people too much.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Diary
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

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John knows I don't sleep very well at night, for all I'm so quiet!
He asked me all sorts of questions, too, and pretended to be very loving and kind. As if I couldn't see through him!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

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Twelfth Entry Quotes

Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly and the pattern just enjoys it! All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try.
Besides I wouldn't do it. Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!
It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please! I don't want to go outside. I won't, even if Jennie asks me to.
For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow.
But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Jennie
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper, The Mysterious Figure
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

"I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!"
Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John, Jennie
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper, The Mysterious Figure
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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