IntroductionThe mental health of women in the 19th and mid of the 20th century was not seen as it is today, where women were not worthy of any professional career and were almost obligated by society to be housewives, no matter what the social class was. Women often had to abandon their dreams to take care of the husband, the children, and the house. Women of the 19th century didn’t have any economic independence and had to sacrifice their lives to educate the children and feed the partner, whereas for women on the 20th century there was a little more freedom when it came to a career but still, they were in their husband’s shadow. The ones who weren’t married were either looking for a companion or attending colleges. Some were getting an education and had high degrees, despite that fact most women were lost like Esther Greenwood, who was afraid to be isolated once she got married. Esther Greenwood’s scare was the narrator’s reality.So what are similarities between the portrayal of female mental disorders in the short-story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the novel The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath?To prove these similarities I’m first going to analyze the title of the books, the protagonist’s personalities, how secondary roles influence the main characters, society’s opinion on mad women to finally discuss the presence of neurasthenia and other mental issues.The authorsBoth authors of the books presented are women who suffered from depression and later committed suicide. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the author of “The Yellow Wallpaper” was a successful writer and feminist who committed suicide after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Before her death, the author was diagnosed with depression and was told by her doctor to “never touch a pen, brush or pencil for as long as you live.” These events inspired Gilman to write the famous semi-autobiography, The Yellow Wallpaper.Sylvia Plath, the author of The Bell Jar was born in Boston and went to Smith College in 1955 before she went to New York to work for Mademoiselle Magazine. “She eventually recovered, having received treatment during a stay in a mental health facility. Plath returned to Smith and finished her degree in 1955.” After being married and having children with a famous poet, Plath was left by her husband for another woman. She then commits suicide after publishing The Bell Jar, which is a semi-autobiography that at the time was published under the pseudonym, Victoria Lucas. Since both stories are semi-autobiographies, it is important to know who they were for the analysis of the books. The meaning of the books’ titleThe Yellow WallpaperThe most important ”inanimate thing(s)” in the book is the Yellow Wallpaper. The narrator loathed the wallpaper immediately and this hate is highlighted by the figure of speech used when she first saw it, which is a hyperbola: “I never saw a worse paper in my life.” The vocabulary used by the woman to describe the paper and its colour is also very negative, for instance, she says: “The colour is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow…” or “a sickly sulphur tint”. After hating it, the narrator starts giving life and using personifications when mentioning the wallpaper. She says that it is so noticeable, it’s ”provoking” and ”irritating” and that its curves ”commit suicide”. She feels attacked by the wallpaper and thinks that “it looks at her as if it knew what a vicious influence it had.” The omniscient narrator starts seeing things behind what she called “silly and conspicuous front design”, she notices “two bulbous eyes stare at her upside down” and “strange, provoking formless sort of figures”. She describes its smell that “creeps all over the house” and personifies it saying that the smell follows her everywhere she goes and even “gets into (her) hair”. The obsession for the wallpaper is remarkable and pointed up by figures of speech like hyperbolas, personifications, and enumerations to portray the infamous paper. It’s an obsession that starts tiring her: “It is repeated of course…”, “Looked at in one way…”, “But, on the other hand,” to finally say that it is a “confusion”. The lady tries so hard to define the wallpaper that “It makes her tired to follow it.”This fascination over the wall is consuming her energy to a point where she thinks it moves and that everyone around her, John and Jeannie are also obsessed with it. The Bell JarThe bell jar is ”a bell-shaped usually glass vessel designed to cover objects or to contain gases or a vacuum.” The object is a metaphor for depression and how a depressive person feels, which is trapped and suffocated. The ‘jar that descends over one’s very mind and impedes the ability to fully, freely live’, making someone feel sad and alone.For Esther, the bell jar symbolizes madness.”When gripped by insanity, she feels as if she is inside an airless jar that distorts her perspective on the world and prevents her from connecting with the people around her. At the end of the novel, the bell jar has lifted, but she can sense that it still hovers over her, waiting to drop at any moment.” An analysis of the rolesThe female protagonistsThe two main female roles have many similarities. The most important would be their love for writing that is mentioned very often by both narrators in a time of need to express themselves. While the female narrator of the Yellow Wallpaper is not allowed to write because according to the people surrounding her, it only makes her madder, Esther Greenwood is in a state of neurasthenia where fatigue takes over and even when she wants to write, she is losing concentration and gives up very easily on any activity. The fact that her fatigue is taking over her body and doesn’t allow her to write is triggering because it’s a way for her to express herself and because her dream job is to become a successful journalist. Something similar happens to the narrator, only her problem is the people around, especially her husband who thinks writing will just make everything worse while the narrator thinks writing is her solution. She has the urge to express her feelings on paper. The love for writing is another proof that it is a semi-autobiography since both authors felt the same way.Another similarity would be their struggle to fit in the gender role. Both women have difficulties to fit into their role. While Esther is preoccupied about her future wife role, the narrator is battling to stop her dreams and be the ideal wife and mother she’s been asked to be. One’s reality (the narrator) is the other one’s fear (Esther). Esther’s opinion on marriage is that it is a ‘dreary and wasted life’ for someone as smart as she. It is obvious that, as a spouse, she would have to take care of her family and put her career she worked so hard for on pause. This thought scares her and makes her delusional because she knows that marriage equals being trapped. The narrator feels the same way, after having a baby she was supposed to have the stereotypical life of a married woman and cook for the husband while he works. This explains the husband urge for his wife to get well, he needs her to do her duty as a wife. A small difference between these two women was that the narrator loved her baby and wanted to protect her child from the yellow wallpaper whereas for Esther Greenwood was the complete opposite as she states that ‘children make her sick.’ This might be because of her fear to become a housewife but it is assumed that she, later on, had a baby, since the story is told in the future by Esther and she mentions a plastic starfish she gave to a baby to play with in the beginning of the story. Another difference these two women have are their lifestyle. In one hand we have Esther Greenwood who won a job in New York and had the most luxury life a nineteen-year-old could’ve wished for, but becomes depressed on her way home and in the other we have the narrator who just had a baby and even though she was rather rich and educated, her life was boring. The influence of society and its opinion on mad womenThe influence of men is very noticeable in both books, starting with ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ where the husband of the narrator is a doctor but calls his wife’s mental illness ‘silly fancies’ and thinks the ‘rest cure’ is the best treatment for her. His vocabulary confirms his dominance on the narrator as he infantilizes her and calls her ‘little girl’. He carries her to bed, doesn’t let his spouse go visit her cousin and hates to have her writing. The husband has an important influence on the storyteller’s behavior insomuch as she can’t express herself and feels isolated.Then we have, The Bell Jar with more than one man present, and their influence is as perceptible as in the other book.First, we have Esther’s boyfriend Buddy Willard, who cheats on her with a waitress even though he’s very traditional about intercourse and marriage. Still, he never apologizes for his infidelity. His views on gender role are very clear at the time that he questions Esther’s love for poetry. He reveals to her that after having a child, she wouldn’t want to write anymore and that poetry was useless. He wonders who would want to marry Esther after she had been hospitalized for being crazy.Then we have Marco who tries to rape Esther and calls her and every woman a ‘slut’. These actions and opinions of the men just show how patriarchal the society was in the 1950s. The behavior of the male roles towards Esther was another reason why she didn’t want to be married, she didn’t want to be her future husband’s shadow. Furthermore, there’s Mrs. Greenwood who loved her daughter but didn’t like to have an insane child. After Esther’s appointment with Doctor Gordon she decides that she doesn’t want to see him again, that statement makes mother happy because she thinks Esther can control her mental illness and be ‘alright again’ she calls the people in the hospital ‘awful’ and ‘dead’. Another episode that stood up about the importance of marriage was the unknown person who was next to Esther once she woke up on the hospital and she couldn’t see. The person said that if she was blind, a ‘nice blind man’ would be married to her one day.Mental disorder in the 19th century and 20th centuryIt is important to understand the different mental disorders addressed in both novels, as it’s the key to understand the two female characters. Also, because both Gilman and Plath suffered from some of the illnesses defined. In fact, mental illnesses and ”madness” were mostly diagnosed in women. The main mental disorders emphasized in the books were hysteria, neurasthenia, and agoraphobia. These conditions were very negative in the 19th and 20th century and very misdiagnosed, leading to bad treatments and making the illness sometimes worse. The misdiagnose of mental health was a way to lock up women who were over-educated as the perfect Victorian woman had to be ”docile, passive, submissive, well-behaved and subservient to men.” The reason for this madness in women was because of their difficulties to fit in society and their crazy behavior was a protest of societal expectations. The woman was supposed to be the dutiful wife, not to quarrel with her husband or demand equal rights, … an independent woman did not have the right to vote, nor did she have any ”autonomy over her own self.” If a woman was to outsmart their companions or any male figure, they would be put in asylums without any evidence of being sick. That was the case for Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard, now known as a woman’s right activist, whose husband admitted her to a hospital after she started questioning his theology. In court she was pronounced insane and analyzed by a different doctor, later ”she contrived for her release, by pretending to fall in love with her doctor”. In court, Dr. Duncanson proved her sanity and the jury declared her legally sane. During her time in the hospital, Elizabeth Packard was not allowed to read or write and witnessed many ”female asylum suicides … due to constant harassment, loneliness, and despair.” While Gilman was advised to stop her career after being diagnosed with mental instability, Plath went to a mental health facility. It is important to know that it was very common for a female novelist to be perceived as mad for their different opinions on women’s rights.Neurasthenia Neurasthenia was used in the 19th century to describe what is now knows as depression or chronic fatigue syndrome. The malady has for symptoms fatigue, insomnia and is related to an emotional disturbance like sudden sadness. Hysteria ‘Hysteria’ derives from the Greek husterikos, meaning ‘of the womb’, some disorders were attributed to the womb. This condition was mostly given to a woman after reaching puberty because the stress of puberty ”is more sudden and intense in the female, the sexual organs which undergo these great changes … invoke a larger area of central innervation than in the male.” It was said that anything that was related to the uterus could provoke a mental instability and lead women to be hysterical. Some of the main causes were ”the periodical disturbance of menstruation, the times of pregnancy … and the multiform anxieties of home life.” According to H.B. Donkin, ”hysterics are deficient in energy, or inappropriate direction of energy, some become inert, others actively mischievous” The presence of the mental illnesses in the protagonistsAfter defining some of the mental instabilities, I can now analyze how the reader can see those traits in our two female protagonists.We can say that the presence of the mental instabilities is very noticeable as both books contain dark lexical fields when it comes to the protagonist’s emotions. It is also very easy for the reader to be on the narrators’ side because both books are written in an omniscient narration, the reader sees everything through their descriptions and thoughts. Esther is having an inner dialog with herself and the female narrator is giving ”a series of private diary entries that she only shares with the reader.” Even though both figures are not mentally healthy, and their statements should be untrustworthy10, the authors use the first-person narration to manipulate the reader into understanding that ”is more of a protest against society rather than an actual illness.”The symptoms of hysteria are very vivid In Esther Greenwood as she recognizes her depression herself numerous times in the book and even buys ”paperbacks on abnormal psychology” to see if there’s hoping to get well again. The nineteen-year-old Esther had everything she could ever wish for but still, she often had the urge to cry for no explainable reason she knew that ”if anybody spoke to her too closely the tears would fly out of her eyes … and she would cry for a week” She compared her need to cry to ”a glass that is unsteady and too full” The nameless narrator of Gilman’s short-story had similar feelings as she points out that she ”cries at nothing, and cries most of the time” Esther didn’t have a perception of time because every day was the same. In the book, she compared her days to a ”series of bright, white boxes, and separating one box from another was sleep, like a black shade and to a white, broad, infinitely desolate avenue” This feeling was one of the reasons why she gave up on her hygiene and stopped washing her hair and her clothes. This act might have been a way of protesting against society because female hygiene is very important to find a husband and to be respected. The female narrator was rather confused and hallucinating. She often personifies the wallpaper saying that it is laughing and staring at her all the time. Another trait of mental disorder was the two narrators lack of sleep. The nameless narrator stayed up at night because of the wallpaper and its patterns, she also couldn’t sleep very well at night because of it, she spent most of her time staring at it, even though it made her tired. Esther’s biggest problem was as well her insufficiency of sleep since she stayed weeks without sleeping and a prisoner of her own thoughts. There are also the personage’s suicides attempts and thoughts of killing themselves. For example, Esther tried to kill herself numerous times and describes those attempts very precisely, the first time being her taking a Gillette blade to cut her wrists in ”a tub full of warm water”. She then tries to hang herself and later to drown at the beach, both times were a failure despite her endeavors: ”I dived and dived again, and each time popped up like a cork.” The time she almost succeeded and was taken to a hospital was when she took her mother’s pills one by one and even laughed when she was about to do so and forgot to take the bottle of pills from her mother’s box before ‘going for a walk.’ The constant mention about the couple The Rosenberg’s execution accentuates her obsession with death. The narrator never tried to kill herself like Esther did but she once thought of ”burning the house to reach the smell” of the wallpaper. Treatments for mental disorders The rest-cure This cure was found by Silas Weir Mitchell in the 19th century to treat patients suffering from hysteria and neurasthenia. The treatment lasted from six to eight weeks and the patient was isolated, had ”bed rest, a high care calorie diet, massage, and electrotherapy”. Most women were not allowed to write, read and sometimes talk. Physicians thought the patient had to be ”remove(d) from home influence and conditions in which the disorder had developed” and according to Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, the treatment was ”to discipline women whose illness became a means of avoiding household duties.” This rest cure was the narrator’s treatment, prescribed by her husband and recommended by her brother. Her husband rented a house after the birth of the baby, so the mother would rest. During that stay, the woman was ”forbidden to ‘work’ until she was well again” and her husband didn’t want her to write.The Electrotherapy Doctors often thought they had to use the shock method to “shake people back to the world of the sane” and wipe bad thoughts of suicide and sadness. In The Bell Jar, electrotherapy is one of Esther’s biggest fear. After her first time being electrocuted by Dr. Gordon, she goes back in time and describes the one time she was electrocuted by her father’s lamp. This memory might be something that traumatized her as a child and Dr. Gordon’s treatment brought that thought back. Esther would rather kill herself than to keep doing the electrotherapy. ConclusionAs I said in the introduction, women were not worthy of any professional career and should just be housewives. Many women, like Esther Greenwood, were afraid to suffocate in their marriage and to not fulfill society’s expectations of being the ideal wife. The narrator was living Esther’s fear. She had to abandon her career to have a baby and was most of the time misunderstood by her spouse who was a doctor but didn’t think his wife was really sick.Every step presented is important to understand the portrayal of the protagonists. First, the author’s background because they both suffered from the mental disorder.Then the title of the books, which are both objects that accentuate the atmosphere of the stories. The yellow wallpaper that follows the narrator and drives her mad until she sets the woman trapped free and then the bell jar who was trapping Esther inside but finally lifts.Furthermore, the opinion of society through the secondary characters like Buddy Willard. Their role was a way for the author to criticize society, especially the male doctors who didn’t know how to cure depressed women because ironically, Esther is cured by a female doctor.Finally, the study of the female mental health helps understand the little evolution medicine made with their treatments, society’s comprehension on the matter and the rejection of women on the gender role for 100 years.Another book that has a similar theme and could very well be analyzed in this essay is Lady Audley’s secret, a novel from the 19th century written by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.