“The Yellow Wall-Paper” packs a big punch with themes such as free will, gender inequality, and mental health all wound up in this short story.
The themes of free will and gender inequality are somewhat tied together in this story. The woman has no free will or power whatsoever; her husband John makes all the decisions for her. He repeatedly refers to her as “little girl” and other condescending, demeaning pet names. He has no respect for her as a human being and thinks that because he’s a man and a physician, he knows best. Even the fact that we never learn the woman’s name, yet her husband is repeatedly called by his name, is a strong indicator of gender inequality.
The woman is clearly struggling with mental illness, most likely postpartum depression, but her husband has no clue what is wrong with her or how to treat it. The woman even says, “I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.” She knows that if she were allowed to get out and do things like work or write, she’d be able to finally rest her mind. Her husband won’t allow it, which not only demeans her further but makes her feel even worse.
The woman writes in her journal that the yellow wall-paper in her room is torn and the bedposts have been chewed on. We are led to believe that this was a result of the children who lived there previously, but after the woman eventually loses what sanity she has left and becomes obsessed with the paper, I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t actually her own doing. She starts to think that she sees women “creeping” about in the wall-paper, and she eventually starts to believe that she is one of the trapped women. This represents how she feels trapped, both physically and mentally.
This is such a haunting story that addresses the important yet taboo issue of mental illness. This woman suffered from depression but her illness was ignored, which sent her spiraling into an even darker place, which makes this story simply terrifying.