Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The quote represents a number of themes in the story. First, the immovable bed that the narrator thinks has been nailed down can be a representation of the “rest cure” prescribed by S. Weir Mitchell. The rest cure was the doctor’s prescription for what he diagnosed as neurasthenia. The doctor, who is depicted as a villain in the story, ordered that she have complete rest and inactivity. This, Gilman argues later, is more detrimental to her health than even the anxiety disorder she suffers. The description of the great bed that renders her immobile and nailed down can be a reference to her view of the patronizing diagnoses given to the women at that time.

The narrator says that following the pattern is just as good as gymnastics. This statement for a person in her position is purely sarcastic. She says it in spite as the wallpaper, despite the significant quantity of time she has used looking at it, remains a heinous sight. Nevertheless, she continues exploring it because it presents a vent for her frustration. This frustration is caused by the imprisoning nature of her prescription and her husband’s demands.

The motions described by the storyteller in following the wallpapers patterns are the beginning of her psychotic break. The repeated and spiraling motions show her battle between what is rational and what she is missing. That is, her creative powers. It represents the battle in her mind to either remain tamed as her generation demands or continue expressing herself. The norm in the 19th century was that women were homemakers. They were expected to be satisfied with this and not strive to achieve more. Gilman’s thinking however is well beyond her time and she constantly finds herself going against the norm. Consequently, this imprisonment by the “rest cure” causes her psychotic breakdown.

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