Those who wish to sing always find a song.
~ a Swedish proverb

Friday, February 19, 2010

"The Yellow Wallpaper"

I read recently on an old friend’s website that she needed a change of scenery or she was going to go all "yellow wallpaper" on us. At the time I didn't understand her reference. I went to high school with her and then remained in touch by working in the local art community as we emerged into the real world. I could always count on her suggestions of artists to explore, books to read, recipes to savor.

So after being puzzled by her "yellow wallpaper" comment, I looked it up and was amazed that I never came across this short story in my years of education.

This story was written in 1892 by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It was one of the first feminist writings at a time when women were not encouraged to think independently. It was a time when women had to conform to the idea of what was "womanhood" in all its domesticity. This story describes a woman’s struggle with post partum depression after the birth of her daughter. Her husband “John” was a physician and also the absolute authority in her life. The treatment for her "nervousness" was "The Rest Cure". This meant that patients were isolated and discouraged to interact with others or even to read and write. The resting in bed for weeks or months at a time often proved to be a treatment that usually left most patients weaker and more disillusioned.

Her struggle in the story was with a depression and the lack of self confidence to do what she inherently felt was right for her. She felt the need to write but her physician husband would not permit it. She secretly wrote when she was alone. The room in which she was "resting" became her prison; the yellow wallpaper became the cage. It was not until her depression got so great did she begin to build her self confidence and seized to care what others thought of her. That is when an interaction with the yellow wallpaper began. She became obsessed and further delusional but in her delusions eventually found independence.

This book has a strange way to exude a feminist point of view but it was powerful. Mental illness is challenging in the best of times but to suffer in the days when women’s rights were non-existing would be tragic.

I believe we all have the ability to know what is right. We all have a voice that will guide us in the direction that serves us best. Tragedy comes when that voice is impaired by either mental illness or by a learned oppression of our society or surroundings.

To be able to be free to feel what we are feeling is the ticket. Nobody should be robbed of this. And from time to time, we all need a change of scenery as my friend mentioned, so that we also don't feel trapped by the designs of our own "yellow wallpaper"!

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