Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 19th century short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Nicola Yoon’s 2015 YA novel, Everything, Everything, contain a few parallels. Both texts deal with women being confined to an indoor space––supposedly for the benefit of their health––at the insistence of their family members. Gilman’s protagonist’s confinement is for the betterment of her mental health, at the insistence of her husband, who happens to be a physician. Yoon’s protagonist, Madeline, is confined to stay inside her house because she has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID). Madeline’s mother––a physician, and also Madeline’s doctor––is her best friend because Madeline has not been outside the walls of her house in 17 years.
In both texts, the confined women try to escape. Gilman’s protagonist’s mental health gets worse instead of getting better, and she spirals into madness, escaping to, and from, the yellow wallpaper. Madeline escapes with a boy who lives next door. She discovers that she does not have SCID and that her mother has lied to her for years. In a surprising twist, it turns out that Madeline’s mother is the one who suffers from mental health issues.
Both texts present figures of authority as infallible. They present a hierarchy within families, and questions of power, trust, and agency arise. Blindly trusting an authoritative family member, especially one with professional credentials, proves detrimental. It is frightening to think about how easily a person’s immediate family can shape their cultural, social, philosophical views, in essence, influencing and altering their entire lives. And in turn, it is even more frightening to think about how authorities outside our immediate social circles are altering our lives.