Suppressed Wishes in The Yellow Wallpaper

Sigmund Freud, as many know, was very interested in the unconscious and suppressed wishes and fears. In his theory about dreams, he believed that suppressed wishes came out in dreams in an arbitrary way. In the book How to Interpret Literature by Robert Parker, it is explained that the latent content, or the suppressed wish, has an indirect relationship with the manifest content, or a dream itself: “While the manifest content of a dream, the dream itself, may be more open than the consciousness of waking life to impulses from the unconscious, the dream does not represent a wish fulfillment directly, because the unconscious repressed wishes seem so threatening,…” (Parker, 128).

In the short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Stetson, a woman who is ill is told to lie in bed all day to cure the illness by her physician husband. The woman in the story has suppressed wishes and desires, as she cannot speak openly because of her husband and his role as her doctor. For example, on of the most obvious suppressed wishes in the story is her desire to write. Writing is a passion of hers, meaning that the reader gets the feeling that the women needs to write in order to have some happiness and sanity, and when she is not allowed to do so freely, her creativity comes out in physical and mental forms. She hallucinates that there is a woman behind bars in the wallpaper in her bedroom trying to get out. She even sees the women “creeping” outside of her window during the day, believing that the woman can perhaps get out of the bars during the daytime. Because she cannot write and produce her creativity by writing, her brain and unconscious seem to portray her creativity in a physical and mental form, being the hallucination. While the manifest content is not in the form of a dream, there is still the latent content of her desire to write, and the manifest content is then the hallucination of the women behind bars in the yellow wallpaper.

The other perhaps most obvious suppressed wish that the main character has is her desire to be independent and to get out of her current situation. It is clear to the reader that this women is unhappy about her treatment of being told to stay in bed all day but it is enforced by the hallucinations of the woman behind bars in the yellow wallpaper. It could be argued that the women behind bars is the main character herself, but she cannot accept that so she says it’s a different woman throughout the story:

“The faint figure behind seems to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out” (Stetson, 652).

This manifest content is a bit less arbitrary than the desire to write as both woman, the hallucination and the main character, are in a way caged and/or trapped, however it’s still a manifestation of the suppressed wish. While she can dislike and write about her dislike of her situation and wish that her husband would prescribe a different treatment plan, the full acceptance that she wants out of her situation, whether that be the fact that she’s stuck in her room or even perhaps her marriage, is too threatening to accept, especially in the time period that this short story was written. Her husband is her doctor, and whether she likes it or not, she has to listen to him.   

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