“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Stetson

I chose this song by City and Colour because I thought it captured the mental elements present in the story. The narrator is driven to insanity by the room and the yellow wallpaper, but I think she had problems to start with. I don’t believe she was insane, but I think there are several hints at a deteriorating mental health.

I noticed that a few times throughout the story, some of the narrator’s descriptions seems to mimic those of a mental illness. It’s subtle, but reoccurring. For example, she talks about mastering the wallpaper, but taken out of context it could easily refer to her illness.

“You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream,” (653).

Then she continues to go on about the wallpaper and how hideous it is. But I thought her language was interesting because it could easily be alluding to her physically oppressive state (by her husband) or her mental oppression (by her mind). The quote above just made me think of the way mental illnesses are often unpredictable. Someone can think they have it under control and are fine, until the illness suddenly comes back and takes over without warning or reason. That just makes the fact that she makes this statement about the wallpaper even more interesting.

There is another quote a page later where the narrator talks about the smell of the wallpaper and how it changes with the weather.

“But there is something else about the paper — the smell! I noticed it the moment we came into the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we have had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is there. It creeps all over the house,” (654)

This description too could mirror aspects of mental illness. Usually, mental illnesses can cause heightened senses such as smell. A person’ s mood can change the way someone perceives their surroundings. It’s interesting that the wallpaper only smells bad when it is gloomy out, and gloom is often associated with negative images. It could be a stretch, but I think of the way our minds can sometimes trick us into believing something that isn’t true based on elements around us. The narrator could just be associating the gloom with bad smells. And by mentioning that it creeps over the house is like the way mental illnesses take over an individual’s entire perspective. She could be seeing everything negatively because her mind is convincing her to.

 

One could even say that the imaginary woman in the wallpaper that the narrator sees is her illness. Maybe she thinks that to free this person would be to finally free herself, which is why she is so obsessive about the matter. It’s odd and creepy to think about, but in my reading of the story, it made sense to me.