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In ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’ written by prestigious feminist author Charlotte Perkins Gilman, after the birth of her baby, our nameless narrator suffers from postpartum depression and is forced by her dominant doctor’s husband, John, to weeks of bed rest. While in the confines of bed, the narrator starts a rapid descent into madness and becomes convinced that women are stalling and crashing. While the narrator begins a rapid descent into madness in the confines of bed rest, he becomes convinced that women are ‘stopping and creeping’ behind the miserable, patternless yellow wallpaper adorning her bedroom walls. Men around her, who have fulfilling, active, and lucrative jobs, undermine her disease and thoughts as a whole during her ascending madness. The yellow wallpaper becomes an obsession that eventually overcomes the narrator. In his work, author Sigmund Freud’s Question of Lay Analysis explores the concept of the unconscious. Freud argues that “humanity is not fundamentally in control of themselves,” but rather the people are guided by their desires, “it is rather the unconscious that runs the show.” Freud points to dreams as being a part of the unconscious psyche over which mankind has no control, contending, “[I]t happens to all of us nightly that our thoughts go their own way and create things that we do not understand, that appear strange to us, and that remind us in alarming ways of pathological products.” For Freud, dreams are images, “gathered from our waking life and then ‘condensed’ and ‘displaced’ in various ways in accordance with our desires.” Freud’s concept of ‘it’ is filled with drives or impulses that haunt the unconscious, which can even cause perceptible damage. The ‘it’ or ID therefore operates by the principle of pleasure, while the ‘I’ or Ego operates by the principle of reality, and the two always appear to be in constant internal conflict. Besides exploring the ID, Ego, and Superego, Freud also discusses the effects of trauma, claiming,“[I]f one has luckily survived a trauma, one pays attention to the approach of similar situations and signalizes the danger through an abbreviated reenactment of the impressions that one experiences with the trauma, by an affect of anxiety.” After one has survived trauma, one often turns to repression, which is the“holding at bay of a memory from re-entering consciousness and forcing a return to a trauma.”

Reacting to readers who feared her story was inspiring with madness, Gilman wrote, ‘It was not meant to drive people crazy but to save people from being crazy, and it worked.’ Significantly, Gilman did not quibble with the tendency of her readers to read the text in instrumental terms — emphasizing what it does rather than what it means — but instead clarified the intended trajectory of its effects and explained that they hit the mark: “and it worked.” Instead of illustrating deep and subterranean meanings, Gilman and her peers centered on the consequences of the story. While some critics used the supposed misreadings of early reviewers as a launch point for critical methods of the late twentieth century, I would like to consider whether recent critical practices could help shed light on Gilman’s readers ‘ interpretive context— both literary and medical. As I will explain, in the nascent discourse of psychotherapeutics, the historical moment of Gilman is marked by the incursion of the literary into the medical.

A thought disorder (TD) or formal thinking disorder (FTD) occurs in psychiatry when an individual has serious thinking, emotional, and behavioral problems. The symptoms may include false beliefs about themselves, and others, paranoia, seeing or hearing things that other people don’t see or hear, and their speech being disconnected. It was coined by Freud as psychosis. According to Freud, the subconscious is not a pool of wild drives to be conquered by ego, but the site of unconscious drives where a traumatic truth sits. Everyone should have the courage to reach the site of their truth, understanding that the truth can be sufficiently shocking to drive one crazy. Slavoj Zizek quotes psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan as follows: “What awaits me there is not a deep truth that I could identify with but an unbearable truth I have to learn to live with. For Lacan, psychoanalysis is not a theory technique or technique of psychic disturbances but a theory to practice that confronts individuals with a most radical dimension of human existence. It does not merely enable human beings to accept the repressed truth about himself or herself, it explores the dimension of truth that emerges in human reality. In Lacan’s view, pathological formations like neuroses, psychoses, and perversions have the dignity of fundamental philosophical attitude towards reality.”

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Freud came to see the persona as having three aspects that come together to form all of our complex processes. In order to have a good deal of psychological energy and to have reasonable mental health, the I d, the I, and the super-ego must all be well balanced. In fact, these components are not always at one another’s ease, and one component always dominates the other. This psychological conflict is an intrinsic and overall aspect of human experience according to his psychoanalytic vision. The conflict between the id, super-ego, typically led by the ego is among the psychological struggles that must be fought by all. The I d works according to the principle of pleasure. She’s the libido source. The ego is a rational part of the mind which works on the principle of reality. The super-ego stands for stores and enforces rules. There is an eternal battle between the id (desires and wishes) and ego and superego, and when fighting the battle one has only two options: to win or to yield. Unfortunately, both, winning the battle and succumbing, are equally painful.

By bringing an analytical eye to Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’ one can argue that Freud’s concept of the unconscious applies seamlessly, primarily to the ID and the Ego. Within the story, “the narrator is reduced to acting like a cross, petulant child, unable to stand up for herself without seeming unreasonable or disloyal. The narrator has no say in even the smallest details of her life, and she retreats into her obsessive fantasy, the only place she can retain some control and exercise the power of her mind.” Here, through Freud’s lens, one could argue that the narrator’s fixation on the wallpaper is the emergence and takeover of her ID, her principle of pleasure. Overall, one could blatantly say that the madness of the narrator stems from the restriction of female expression and her marriage’s incompatibility. Overall, one could blatantly say that the madness of the narrator stems from the restriction of female expression and her marriage’s incompatibility. At the height of her mental breakdown, the narrator thinks that “there are a great many women behind [the wallpaper], and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast… she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.”

Most women during Gilman’s time were in a patriarchal society’s limitations, where their only job was to get married, be a good wife, and bear children. Even if, at this time, a woman could break free from the patriarchy, she would have been socially ostracized and mocked for not living within societal expectations. Even though many advances in women’s rights have taken place today, women are still not free. Women are still haunted by femininity stereotypes, choosing between starting a family or having a career — because it is almost impossible to do both simultaneously, and the horror of unequal pay, even if they do the same job as men. Institutionalized sexism is still a very real issue, and women will have to fight to reach the equality we all crave and deserve.

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