When reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"," there is the obvious theme of mental illness as the reader follows the main character, decline in mental stability. While the speaker suggests that it is the wallpaper causing her to be crazy, there are hints that she may just be suffering from postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, or both. However, what causes her decline in mental stability is not the wallpaper itself. The answer may lie in some of the other themes in this short story. There are three very important themes that are easily recognizable if one is able to look past the looming intention that the story is merely about insanity: the subordination of women in marriage, the importance of self-expression, and "the resting cure ".
One of the most aggravating underlying themes in this short story is the subordination of women in marriage. Throughout the entire short story, the reader can see that the speaker's husband, John, continuously talks down to her and treats her as if she is a child. When the speaker talks to her husband (who is a doctor) about the concerns of her illness, she says "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage " (page 462). The reader can clearly see that while being treated this way is unhealthy, it was a social normality in the late 1800s. There are so many more sickening examples of this subordination, but the most important examples are the ones that show how oblivious John tries to make his wife to her condition. She clearly struggles with what he tells her, and what she knows is a reality. She even starts to believe that he is correct about his treatment decisions when we, as readers, can see that he is only furthering her from being well again. He truly treats her like a sick child. At one point, he even goes as far as to call her "little girl " and even says "bless her little heart ", and continues to talk about her in third person like she is not even there (page 468).