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In the story of The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator, Jane, is diagnosed with nervous depression. This condition is brought up multiple times throughout the story in many parts but in different forms. This is what ultimately leads her to go insane staring at the yellow wallpaper. The narrator puts enormous emphasis on this condition in subtle ways. Her choice of wording in the above text has more than one meaning, it is an extremely important choice of words for the story itself.
The words nervous depression in the text above was a medical analysis in the 1800’s, when the story was written. Usually called, neurasthenia, it was categorized as one of the many nervous diseases only women had because of the frail attributes of a woman’s brain and fragile sensibility. Women, back then, were thought to succumb to any disorder that could affect their emotional state. Which you could clearly see when Jane would become so nervous when Mary was taking care of her baby and she could not be able to see the child.
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Also, another time within the story when Weir Mitchell was referenced because she was not getting any better with her nervous depression. Weir Mitchell developed the Rest Cure, a treatment for the diagnoses of physical and mental exhaustion, as well as hysteria in the 1800’s. In The Yellow Wallpaper Jane is left to her room, a room she described as queer because of the yellow wallpaper, to rest and not be able to mess with housewife duties. Ultimately, she becomes disgusted by it. Women most often received the Rest Cure, which typically involved six to eight weeks of isolation and bed rest, Jane’s husband, a physician, tried to treat her with this exact cure, along with her brother as well.
The other word in the text above that really stood out was hysterical. Hysterical is an uncontrolled emotion, something that Jane was diagnosed with. The root word of hysterical is hysteria and it is actually derived from the Greek language meaning uterus. There is no way that the narrator did not mean to choose this word to be paired with the words preceding it. In Greece, it was believed that the uterus was blamed for all women’s emotional state. Hysteria is emphasized in the fact that Jane just became a new mother, which could mean she is suffering from post- partum depression. That term was introduced in Ancient Greece in 400BC but was not introduced in the DSM until 1968.
As an illness, neurasthenia is almost identical to nervous diseases and hysteria. She displays all of these diseases symptoms as the yellow wallpaper begins to influence her mind. The way her depression is making her tired, even when it’s just talking to friends and having company over to visit her, corresponds to neurasthenia. That along with her confinement to the room with the yellow wallpaper and agitation towards her husband corresponds with the nervous disease. Finally, hysteria takes in as we find out she is a new mother.
Jane is reluctant to accept a diagnosis that insists that her emotions and feminine nature are abnormal. But she is still forced to accept her husband’s treatment. As the historical background of these diseases suggests, the medical treatment of that time was sexist and oppressive. Jane is not only at odds with her husband but her brother as well. She is placed in a conflict with centuries of medical practices and beliefs about female emotions. No wonder she started seeing women in the yellow wallpaper and went insane.
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