I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal—having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.
The narrator recounts that she violates her doctors’ treatment plan of rest for her illness. Her husband and her brother have told her not to work, which for her means writing. Sometimes she feels convinced that writing makes her tired, but insightfully attributes the truly tiring aspect to having to hide the fact that she’s writing. Holding fast to her beliefs in the face of others’ insistence that she doesn’t know what is best for her takes a tremendous toll on her emotional well-being.
I take pains to control myself—before him, at least, and that makes me very tired.
The narrator realizes that her husband increasingly annoys her. He wants her to repress her nervous sensitivity and strengthen her own self-control that he trusts will push back the condition that afflicts her. She tries to do as he asks. The narrator recognizes, however, that the act of behaving as her husband wishes her to do exhausts her—compounding the condition that he attempts to cure with his prescriptions.
John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency.
The narrator explains that John recognizes that she has a strong imagination—the story implies that she works as a writer. But he sees the combination of her imagination and her nerves as being detrimental to her health. He wants her to repress the imagination in order to protect the nerves. Unfortunately, while he discourages her from writing her fanciful ideas or even expressing them aloud, no one can prevent her imagination from working. At the same time, because she doesn’t dare to share what she imagines, no one can help her prevent her fancies from becoming obsessions or delusions.
I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia. But he said I wasn’t able to go. . . . I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished.
The narrator understands that, to John, her crying while trying to convince him to let her go visiting shows her weakness and her unfitness to travel. However, the reader understands that her crying reveals her desperation for some change to how she is currently being treated for her illness. She speaks of these relatives as people with whom she talks about her work, so her desire to see them clearly relates to her need for a creative/professional life. John believes that her writing makes her worse, not better, so he shuts down the idea of such a trip.
I beg of you, for my sake and for our child’s sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy.
John attempts to shuts down his wife’s idea that while physically she may be getting better, mentally she is not. He does not want to hear this talk of her not making progress. Although he minimizes her illness, he reacts with alarm. He realizes that someone with a vivid imagination, like his wife, can will herself into illness. He orders her to repress her imagination. John brings their baby into the discussion, from whom his wife feels detached. Meanwhile, he denies her anything else to think about or do. Ironically, the narrator must find a way to get better while the tools she needs to mentally heal are taken from her.