“The Yellow Wallpaper”: A Look At Hysteria & Female Domestication

I remember when I first read “The Yellow Wallpaper”. It was in my American Literature class with Mr. Barry in 10th grade. I understood that it was a feminist piece, one that pointed out the domestication of women and subjugation to their male counterparts in history. I recall being terrified when I went to bed that night; I stared at my light purple walls, wondering if an apparition of a lady would appear.

Men fear women being in positions of power, but they tend to fear women pushing back against their orders even more. What is a way for men to ensure that women won’t retaliate? By domesticating them.

There’s this strange sense of infantilization that John holds for Jane in the story; she is kept in a nursery, called “a little goose,” and not allowed to write down her ideas and stories. And Jane being in the nursery also hints at how men view women as merely tools to be used for procreation.

It’s also frustrating how little we know about Jane’s character; she has a “nervous disorder” and recently had a child, but that’s about all we know. John’s character, on the other hand, has so much substance; it is brought up multiple times how he is a “renowned” physician who makes all of the medical decisions for his wife.

Jane has power through her words and writing, but John strips that away from her and labels her as “hysterical,” when in reality there was absolutely nothing wrong with this woman.

Hysteria used to be considered an actual illness only diagnosed to women who were “emotionally charged”. “Hystero” is the Latin root for uterus. Women were treated for hysteria by being manually stimulated in the vaginal area until climax by male physicians. Women with hysteria were sent to hospitals for medical help by their husbands or fathers, thereby making this “treatment” rape.

It is likely that John diagnosed Jane with hysteria; however the treatment she received is not explicitly stated within the story, making it blend into the shadows, much like the similar stories of other women.

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