Review: The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story is written around 1890. The awareness about depression must not be there at that time. It is a short story of a new mother who is battling Postpartum depression.
Wikipedia defines it as such:

"Postpartum depression (PPD), also called postnatal depression, is a type of mood disorder associated with childbirth, which can affect both sexes. Symptoms may include extreme sadness, low energy, anxiety, crying episodes, irritability, and changes in sleeping or eating patterns. Onset is typically between one week and one month following childbirth. PPD can also negatively affect the person's child."

The couple shifts to an abandoned country house for three weeks after birth of their daughter. The man of house is a physician and have some understanding of depression. The story is told in first person. The woman is depressed but as it happens she doesn't know it. I can totally relate to story and found it a very accurate description of depression.

Instead of describing it, I find it apt to reproduce para showing various features of depression. I will also try to decipher the metaphors used (as per my understanding which maybe wrong).

Three most common symptoms of depression are: Insomnia in the night, felling bad and not hungry in morning and thirdly the situation and appetite improves slightly in the evening. See it beautifully described:

"I'm feeling ever so much better! I don't sleep much at night, for it is so interesting to watch developments; but I sleep a good deal in the daytime."

In extreme cases there is paranoia and hallucinations. You have irrational fears who have no basis in reality and you see or hear things which are not there. You feel ever so weak, helpless and try to fight it off with assuming different identities. See the passage below:

"I don't like to LOOK out of the windows even—there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?"

The yellow wallpaper is a metaphor for depression and dread and green is of happiness and normalcy. Once you are depressed you are even afraid of feeling good and you feel guilty to feel happy. See below:

"For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow."

The final stage is complete breakdown and detachment from reality. You lose hold on reality completely and do all the outlandish things which is frightening even to your care givers.

"Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.
Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard.
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."

She become so paranoid that she locks herself in a room away from her baby. The description is very accurate and heart wrenching. People who have no knowledge about depression might find it outlandish or horror story. But it is not. Depression is hell and only those who have gone through it and survived to tell the tell like Charlotte know the truth.

PS: Thanks Jenny for suggesting this beautiful short story.

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