"The Yellow Wallpaper,"" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is about a women battling postpartum depression during the late 19th century. The story covers the course of her treatment during this time period as well as her mental condition. Gilman brings her personal experience to the story through her own battle with this affliction during the same time period. She uses her personal experiences to educate the public on the treatment of mental illness in women. The story ultimately reveals Gilman's opinion of Dr. Weir Mitchell and his treatment program known as the "rest cure ".
In the late 19th century mental illness was not clearly understood and the treatment methods focused on healing the physical symptoms. The understanding of healing the mind was not practiced at this time. Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell was a noted neurologist that treated Gilman for her condition. Mitchell believed a patient suffering from severe fatigue and loss of appetite should spend most of their day in bed and be fed fatty foods and drinks like milk. His belief was that this would cure the physical symptoms and allow the patient to return to a normal physical state. His therapy was known as the rest cure. It included isolation from family and friends as well as limited activity such as writing. This treatment reduced the ability of the patient to that of an infant. A nurse was responsible for feeding, bathing, and turning the patient in bed. This treatment was responsible for keeping many patients from being placed in asylums. In many cases, the rest cure was considered to be worse than the disease (Rest).
In Gilman's story, the treatment of her main character is similar to her own experience. Both are separated from their family and left in isolation under the care of doctors and nurses. Just like Gilman, her main character was limited in her physical activity and forced to stay in bed for a majority of the day. In her autobiography, Gilman writes, "I was put to bed and kept there.