Sophomore English Level 2
March 5, 2015
Depression in the Eyes of Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte Perkins Gilman started her career as a feminist poet in the late 1800’s due to her controlling relationships with men. Growing up, Gilman never had a strong male role model to look up to, but instead saw a world where men dominated over women. Her childhood was very unstable; it lacked the presence of a father figure, and she and her family moved 19 times over a span of 18 years (Sayre 515). Because of this, she became an independent young woman and a strong freethinker, but the experience also prevented any long-term friendships. During her first marriage, however, she discovered that she had developed depression, forcing her to abandon all physical activity, including writing. After discovering that her treatment did more harm than good, Gilman wrote a short story called The Yellow Wallpaper to express to the world that the mistreatment of women was spiraling out of control. She realized that men, through trying to do what was best for their wives, were oblivious to the women’s plea for help; women felt they were more knowledgeable of their own abilities, and were constantly trying to express these ideas and opinions. Gilman's illness greatly influenced not only The Yellow Wallpaper, but also the many other short stories and novels she would write. After suffering the absence of her father and an episode of severe depression, Charlotte Perkins Gilman published numerous books on feminism and depression. Inspired by personal experiences, she wrote to teach and inform others of the disproportionate views of man and woman; after being treated horribly for her depression, Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper to enlighten her readers of the many ways men controlled women during the 1800’s.
Throughout her life, Charlotte Perkins Gilman experiences mistreatment and ignorance from the few men who impact her life. Her father, Frederick Perkins, abandons his family early in the author's life, and she suffers greatly from this loss (Gilman 8). Her mother’s pain, however, far transcends her own. At a young age she has to witness her mother, Mary Wescott, struggle to raise a family and survive the loss of her true love, while being a good example to her children. The portion of her life that most affects her views is her state of deep depression1. After the birth of her daughter Katharine, Gilman's mental illness climaxes. In The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography, Gilman says that “[t]he only physical pain I ever knew…was having the baby, and I would have had a baby every week than suffer as I suffered in my mind…[t]he mental agony grew so unbearable that I would sit blankly moving my head from side to side…” (91). To her dismay, her husband ignored the fact that his wife was dying inside, and sent her to a neurologist named S. Weir Mitchell. He prescribed to her the rest cure, demanding that she stay in bed and cease all activities such as writing or drawing (Gilman 119). However, under this treatment her condition quickly worsened, and she was overcome with lassitude. After divorcing her first husband, Charles Stetson, and attempting to resume a normal life, she decided to use her unique writing skills to bring to attention the faulty treatment society had begun to accept. Her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” is nearly an exact account of her own personal depression. The narrator is ordered to cease all physical activity, like Gilman was, and eventually breaks away from the overbearing grasp of her husband. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s early life, her relationship with Charles Stetson, and a period of mental depression inspired her to become a famous writer. Gilman wrote numerous stories and, although she was ignored during the early years of her career, many critiques and writers mark her as