Tag Archives: feminism

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is not what one would consider “normal” reading for Lutheran pastors. Ms. Gilman was a turn of the (20th) century proto-feminist, advocated group raising for children (“it takes a village”), and any number of peculiar to downright evil ideas.

She also had a brilliant insight into the mindset of depression and anxiety.

In the signature short story in the above book (The Yellow Wallpaper), the protagonist has been diagnosed with melancholy. Her husband is a doctor, and believes that the best thing for her is to be kept away from all human contact. Despite her ongoing objections, she is made a virtual prisoner in her own home, a cottage they have rented until she gets better.

Of course, she doesn’t get better.  She goes slowly mad, and becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper in her upper room where she spends all her time.  The patterns in the paper become alive, she starts to see people on the other side of the paper.  It consumes her, until she finally cannot take it anymore and commits suicide.

Now the element of this story which I found so intriguing is the role of her husband.  He is a doctor, so he is an expert.  She cannot question his judgment, because that would be both unseemly and totally counterproductive.  So she is forced to accept his diagnosis even though everything within her says it is wrong.

The parallels between this and modern approaches to depression and other mental illnesses is striking.  What “camp” you fall into will determine your diagnosis.  Traditional medicine.  Homeopathy.  Good ole’ American willpower.  The “Luther” view of sing more hymns loud, drink more and be with people more (more on this little topic in another post).  Some will say drugs are the only way to go.  Therapy must be the answer.  Others will say that prayer is the only way.  Still others meditation, sunlight,  etc.  But it is surprising to me how completely exclusive these approaches can become.

The reality is that the mind is an incredibly complex thing, truly a wonder of God’s creation.  Just as there are many causes for depression, even so there may be many roads out of depression.  What we must be on guard against is presuming that one view or approach is the end all only way to come to a right way out.

In this path we walk, our Lord has given us many tools for healing.  God will see you through, no matter what path you may end up talking along the way.