The Rest Cure as Portrayed in Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"

By: Arden Campbell

The Rest Cure as Portrayed in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” follows a woman’s descent into madness after her husband refuses to acknowledge the severity of postpartum depression and its effects. Gilman also offers a critique on S. Weir Mitchell’s “Rest Cure,” and how it horrifically perpetuates harmful stereotypes and harms more than it helps. “The Yellow Wallpaper” displays the disgusting irony of a “cure” that does the exact opposite of what it promises.

Gilman’s story details the very real struggles of women in the 1800s and is made all the more powerful by the knowledge that much of the story is based off Gilman’s own struggles with mental health- especially in a world where women were not allowed to openly seek help in times of mental struggle. Gilman draws particular attention to Mitchell ‘s “Rest Cure,” which was a “catch-all diagnosis for the host of nonpsychotic emotional disorders that were not understood and not responsive to medical therapies” (Martin). The Rest Cure was implemented by people who did not understand (or want to understand) why women suffered from afflictions like post-partum depression. “The Yellow Wallpaper” details one such individual. John, though he claims to love his wife, refuses to acknowledge her pain. Gilman writes that John, “does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer and that satisfies him” (Gilman, 3). The Rest Cure was merely an instrument used to keep women from the workplace and to encourage a “placid” state of contentment. The Rest Cure was not a cure, but simply a means to a particularly patriarchal end. The Rest Cure and its inadequacies become even more apparent when one also considers the West Cure, which was also created by Mitchell. This method was used to treat men who were struggling with mental health- be it anxiety, depression, etc. The West Cure consisted of men being “encouraged to engage in vigorous physical activity out West, and to write about the experience” (Stiles). So, women were encouraged to remain in their “proper” sphere, forced into isolation, electrotherapy, and limited physical activity, while men were encouraged to go outside and be active. The Rest Cure was not a cure, merely an instrument to oppress women and to keep them where men decided they belonged. Gilman spoke openly about her time in which she attempted to follow Mitchell’s orders, and she described how she “came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that [she] could see over.” The irony and hypocrisy need no explanation. The harmful stereotypes that these so-called “cures” have, unfortunately, contributed to the lasting sexism and inequality between men and women that is still seen today.

Gilman, through her story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” sought to call out men like S. Weir Mitchell who falsely claimed to be able to “cure” mental anguish that women suffered, and instead details how their arrogance only made mental health struggles for women worse. These harmful ideas can be traced back to the 300s BCE, when Aristotle wrote that “A living creature consists in the first place of mind and body, and of these two, one is by nature the ruler and the other the subject” (Pol. 1.1254a). He claimed that women were, by nature, inferior due to their “weaker” biology and were thus unfit to partake in matters beyond those of the home. Aristotle claimed that women’s biology made them inferior, that they were “deformed men.” Even then, medicine was used to shackle women to their homely spheres, never able to escape. Mitchell did the same thing thousands of years later, through almost the same means. These old sins cast long shadows, and Gilman sought to shine some light onto them. She fought against these sexist injustices the only way that she could: her writing. “The Yellow Wallpaper” does exactly what it was intended- shines a light on the cruelties that women had to endure. And, as Gilman wrote, “It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being crazy, and it worked.”

Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Gilman: Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Renard Press, 2021.

M.D., Diana Martin, et al. “The Rest Cure Revisited.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 1 May 2007,

Stiles, Anne. “Go Rest, Young Man.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association,