The Yellow Wallpaper
In the story, Yellow Wallpaper, the protagonist and her husband have a series of personal issues relating to the former’s mental stability. Since the husband is a renowned physician, he tends to ignore the concerns that the protagonist, his wife, has regarding her health. However, in addition to all these, there is a house that is, at best, haunting the woman, narrator. From a psychoanalysis perspective, the narrator has mental disorders that made her unable to perceive what is real and what is not. As a result, the narrator’s condition gets worse by the day while the husband gets more paranoid regarding her change in behaviour. Regarding personality structure, from the psychoanalytic theory, the narrator’s response is shifting from both the ID and the ego principles to focus only on the superego (Thompson 54). Through the invocation of socially acceptable ways, as perceived by the external world, the narrator suppresses her urges and in the long run develops a personality that contents with the expectations of her keepers, husband, and husband’s sister, Jennie.
“If someone’s husband is a physician of high standing and lets it known to friends and family that there is nothing wrong with the wife, there is nothing much to be done (Gilman, 2).” The above statement is an observation that makes the narrator question her sanity but at the same time reinstates her respect for the physician husband. Under the superego principle of the psychoanalytic theory, the socially acceptable ways of responding to other people’s careers and professional opinions are only accepting them if there is no better way to defend oneself. “My brother is also a physician and says the same thing.” From this statement, the narrator already has the conviction not to question the authority of both her husband and her brother.
On the aspect of the wallpaper, there is a problem that the narrator already discovers regarding its development and construction. In this case, the author of the story, Gilman, aims to show his target audience, couples, that the social surrounding of an individual is not only their limits but also their stepping stones to recovery. In the story, the narrator seems to have a problem with this premise. Based on the argument on the wallpaper and its purpose to the overall surrounding, the narrator points out that,” It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following… (Gilman 3).” This statement aligns with the narrator’s obvious discomfort regarding the wallpaper’s irritating nature. However, what would the narrator do about it if the wallpaper is also regarded as a therapeutic symbol? From a physician’s perspective, mentally ill patients need to rest and take medication. “So I take phosphates or phosphite, which is… (Gilman 2).” In her state, she has no valid obligation to question the effectiveness of the recommendations from her husband. In this case, the superego suppression is based on two contradictory perspectives. Firstly, she is not a qualified medical practitioner, and secondly, she cannot know whether or not the recommendations work.
On the interaction with herself and the others within her social surrounding, the narrator behaves in specific ways that invoke a sense of dishonesty. This means that she has to act in particular ways in which the expectation of her husband and sister-in-law. One way of doing this is ensuring that the sister-in-law does not find her writing, “I must not let her find me writing. (Gilman, 6).” These confinements and restrictions on what the narrator can or cannot do is a reflection of how society treats those it considers unwell. Additionally, the ganging on the subject also confirms that the social setting of any given individual defines what they should accept as part of their personality.
The consideration of the psychoanalysis theory delineates the ID which is responsible for influencing the basic needs of the individual in this case. For instance, while the ID gives the personality the relation to things the narrator wants to do, the superego is suppressed to accept what the immediate social environment sees fit for her. It is through the ID that the narrator knows she can be better if she was able to write as she likes. However, the environment around her is not accommodating of this fact (Berger, 37). This approach forces the superego to promote the capacity of social restrictions imposed on the narrator as part of her personality. For instance, when the narrator hears the doors opening or footsteps coming upstairs, she stops writing and stands by the window to gaze at the environment down below. Throughout the story, the narrator is observed not to have any basic needs relating to psychoanalytic ID and instead has a superego that relates to the social environment that has been set up to influence her behaviour positively. Additionally, without the regulated social context, the narrator would not be in a position to believe that her response would affect her wellbeing.
Berger, Louis S. Psychoanalytic Theory and Clinical Relevance: What Makes a Theory Consequential for Practice?. Routledge, 2019.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The yellow wallpaper. Project Gutenberg, 1999.
Thompson, Clara. Psychoanalysis: Evolution and development. Routledge, 2018.