Example 1 – The Yellow Wallpaper – Journey into Insanity
The dominant/submissive relationship between an overbearing husband and his submissive wife drives her from sadness to madness in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The flaw in the human condition plays a significant factor in her deterioration.
Her husband, a well-known physician, is unwilling to accept that his wife might have a problem. The same stance was exhibited by her brother, who is also a doctor. While this attitude and the actions that resulted from it undoubtedly exacerbated her suffering; it appears to me that there is an indomitable spirit within her. Perhaps she has an idea of proving them wrong unconsciously.
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The tale opens with the woman — whose name we never learn — describing her depression and how it is dismissed by her husband and brother. “You see, he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do? If a high-quality physician, as well as one’s own spouse, assures friends and relatives that there is nothing wrong with you but temporary nervous illness – a little hysterical inclination – what can you do?” (Gilman 193).
These two physicians — both of them doctors — appear to be totally refusing to acknowledge that there may be more to her condition than just stress and a little nervousness. Even when summer in the country and weeks of bed rest do not help, her husband will not believe she has a genuine problem.
Throughout the narrative, there are several instances of the dominant-submissive relationship. She is essentially imprisoned in her room, supposedly to allow her to recuperate and heal. She is not even permitted to work because “So I…am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again.” (Gilman 193). She is not even allowed to write: “There comes John; I must put this away — he detests it when I write a word.” (Gilman 194)
“I don’t enjoy our room at all,” she says. “I’d wanted… But John wouldn’t hear of it.” (Gilman 193). She can’t have guests: “It’s really disheartening not having anyone to advise and socialize with about my job … However, he says he would rather put explosives in my pillowcase than allow me to have those invigorating individuals around now.” (Gilman 196)
She is just as predictable, and her decline is equally unalterable. Surely, it’s because of the abuse she suffered that she keeps declining. “I don’t feel I was ever made use of for anything of worth.” (Gilman 197). It appears that her husband is oblivious to her worsening situation since he does not reveal she has a genuine issue until the end of the narrative — at which time he faints.
John could have sought council from a less personally involved individual, but he only wanted assistance for the house and kid. He hired a nanny to watch over the kids while he was at work each day: “It’s good that Mary is such an excellent caregiver with the baby.” (Gilman 195). Jennie, his sister, took care of the home instead. “She’s an excellent and enthusiastic housekeeper.” (Gilman 196).
He does talk of taking her to a specialist: “John says if I don’t get better he’ll send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.” She took it as a threat since he was even more domineering than her husband and brother.
He does nothing to get her assistance, and by imprisoning her in a room with nauseating wallpaper and little else to occupy her thoughts, let alone offer any form of mental stimulation, he nearly compels her to think about it. Prisons are meant to be demoralizing, and she is rapidly approaching being a prisoner in there.
“Perhaps if she had been permitted to come and go as she pleased, her melancholy would have subsided: ‘I believe that if I were merely well enough to write a little it would help relieve the pressure of thoughts and relax me.’” (Gilman 195). It appears that simply being able to express how you really feel might have aided in the alleviation of your sadness, but John will not hear it. The lack of an outlet made things worse: “…I must say what I think and feel in some manner; it is such a relief! But the effort is becoming greater than the gain.” (Gilman 198).
Meanwhile, she attempts to dispel his misconceptions. “Because John is a physician, I suppose . . . perhaps that’s why I don’t get better faster. You see, he doesn’t believe I’m sick! And what can one do?” (Gilman 193). It appears to me that while seeming to submit, she frequently defied her husband’s commands. She writes when no one is watching, tries to shift her bed but keeps an eye out for someone approaching. This is apparent throughout the narrative.
It also appears to me that she wants to drive her husband away as a result of his harsh treatment. “John is away all day, and even on nights when his cases are serious. I’m relieved my problem isn’t life-threatening!” (Gilman 195). She actually locks him out of her room as her breakdown approaches: “I’ve locked the door and thrown the key into the front walkway.
“I don’t want to go out or have anybody come in till John gets here. I want to amaze him.” (Gilman 203). This seems only reasonable since she knew he couldn’t tolerate hysterics, and it was intended to drive him away.
Here is your assignment for the literary analysis: Create a 3-4 page essay in which you creatively defend ONE of the three thesis statements about “The Yellow Wallpaper” based on your study of chapters 11 and 60 in NFG.
Paraphrasing is the best way to prevent plagiarism. All textual support should be given in the form of word-for-word citations, and the thesis statement you choose should be included in your introduction exactly as it is below. The text must be woven throughout your work using parenthetically indicated page numbers according to MLA style. Each citation requires a parenthetical reference.
- Thesis #1: Jane’s madness is charted by descriptive imagery in “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
- Thesis #2: Charlotte Perkins Gilman composed “The Yellow Wallpaper” in the form of a diary kept by an allegedly hysterical woman who utilizes the diary as a means of escape.
- The third thesis is that insanity is the only way to achieve freedom in “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
- Finally, you are not obligated or advised to include secondary sources in your literary analysis. I’m interested in how you interpret Gilman’s tale as a primary source, using the story’s elements and structural aspects.
In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the abusive/compliant relationship between an overbearing husband and his submissive wife drives her to madness. Her fall seems to be influenced by poor human nature. Her husband, a well-known doctor, is unwilling to accept that his wife might have a problem. This attitude is also exhibited by her brother, who is also a doctor.
This attitude, and the actions taken as a result of it, no doubt exacerbated her breakdown. It appears to me that she has a rebel in her. She may be acting unconsciously to disprove them wrong. In the opening chapter, the woman — whose name we never learn — describes her sadness and how her husband and brother dismissed it. “You see,” she says, “he does not think I’m unwell! What am I going to do?”
“What is one to do if a physician of high standing, as well as one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression — a modest hysterical tendency?” (Gilman 193). This is another story of a woman who was brought to a hospital by her family because she was not feeling well, but it’s also about two doctors who are unwilling to consider anything else. Even when the summer heat and weeks of bed rest didn’t assist, her husband would have nothing of it.
Throughout the narrative, there are numerous examples of the superior-subordinate connection. She is effectively imprisoned in her room, ostensibly to allow her to recuperate from an illness. She is not permitted to work, so I am “absolutely prohibited” from doing anything until I’m well again.) (Gilman 193).
Mary’s “unconsciousness” is so effective that she isn’t even allowed to write, “There comes John, and I must put this away — he hates having me write a word.” (Gilman 194). She has no say in the room’s location or decor: “I don’t like our room at all. I had wanted . . . But John refused.” (Gilman 193). She can’t have visitors: “It’s really frustrating not having anyone to talk with or advise about my job. He says he’d sooner put fireworks in my pillowcase than allow those stimulating people into my life now.” (Gilman 196).
She continues to deteriorate as a result of her oppression. “I don’t feel I gained anything by giving my hand over for anything. . .” (Gilman 197). It appears that her husband is unaware of her worsening situation since he never acknowledges that she has an actual problem until the story’s conclusion — at which point he faints.
John could have asked for council from someone less personally involved in his situation, but he only wanted assistance with the house and kid. He hired a nanny to watch over the children while he was at work each day: “It’s a blessing Mary is such a good mother.” (Gilman 195). And he delegated responsibility for the care of the house to his sister Jennie. “She is an excellent and enthusiastic home keeper.” (Gilman 196).
However, he does talk of taking her to a professional: “John says if I don’t get better soon, he’ll send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.” She took it as a threat since he was even more controlling than her husband and brother. Not only does he fail to obtain her assistance, but by confining her essentially a prisoner in a room with sickly patterned wallpaper and very little to occupy her mind, let alone offer any mental stimulation, he virtually compels her to think about her problem. Incarceration is meant to be bleak; she is fast approaching being a captive.
“I think if I was permitted to come and go as I pleased, my melancholy would have lifted.” “I believe that if I only wrote a little, it would alleviate the press of ideas and relax me.” (Gilman 195). It appears that telling someone how she really felt might have helped her depression, but John will not hear of it. The lack of an outlet made matters worse: “…but in some way or other — it is such a relief! But the strain is becoming greater than the pleasure.” ( Gilman 198 )
Meanwhile, her reaction is to try to disprove him. “John is a doctor, and perhaps . . . maybe it’s because I don’t get better faster that he doesn’t believe I’m sick! You see he doesn’t think I’m ill! And what can you do?” (Gilman 193). It appears to me that while she presented an appearance of obedience, she was constantly defying her husband’s commands. She writes when no one is around to witness it, rearranges her bedding but keeps an eye out for someone approaching. This becomes apparent throughout the narrative.
It also appears to me that she wishes to drive her husband away as a result of his harsh attitude. “John is away all day and, in some instances, even at night when his cases are serious. I’m relieved that my situation isn’t serious!” (Gilman 195). She actually locks him out of her room as her breakdown draws near: “I’ve locked the door and thrown the key down onto the road. I don’t want to go out until John comes back.”I sense I’m accomplishing nothing.” (Gilman 203). There’s no need for this other than to make him aware that he was incorrect, and since she knew he couldn’t stand hysterics, it was employed to drive him away.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic: The Significance of First-Person Narration in “The Yellow Wallpaper”
“The Yellow Wallpaper,” a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is the tale of an unnamed woman who narrates her own life. However, the reader never learns her name in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Gilman has brilliantly taken the reader into the heart of a woman’s mind and feelings, yet she remains nameless in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” reflecting how women are perceived in society. Narration, of course, is an essential component of every narrative or novel; as readers, we are constantly assessing whether the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is believable and trustworthy.
The narrator of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” appears convincing at first, but as her mental state deteriorates, does her tale follow suit? Consider the significance of narration in the telling of a story and the topic as you read this narrative. For example, if “The Yellow Wallpaper” had been told by the lady’s husband, how would things have been different?
Other critical issues to consider include: Why is it essential for the woman narrator to have complete control and voice in order to tell her own narrative? What impact does this selection of narration have on establishing a bond with the reader and generating particular emotional reactions?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic: “The Yellow Wall-Paper” as a Feminist Story
“The Yellow Wall-Paper” was published in 1892 and is considered a feminist short story. Given that the female character in the tale goes insane because of her position in society is limited, as well as her capacity to creatively express herself, can the reader infer a feminist statement from the author?
This is a complex issue that may be approached from various angles. You might either examine the story in the context of a larger sociocultural history (e.g., what was going on in 1892 that made this particular tale so important and resonant, and why does it matter today?) or look at the tale only from its own perspective: What does Gilman’s writing about “the female condition” imply about “the female condition” in general by focusing on the life of this one woman and her mental deterioration in “The Yellow Wall-Paper?”
Example 5 – A Study Of Insanity
It is difficult for women in the twentieth century today, who have more freedom than previous generations and have not experienced Gilman’s depressive life from 1860 to 1935, to comprehend his condition and grasp the significance of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” If Dr. S. Weir Mitchell could modify his treatment after reading the tale, Gilman wrote it with the goal of obtaining personal joy.
However, as Ann L. Jane points out, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is “the most finely crafted of her works: a genuine literary piece?” the most straightforwardly self-consciously autobiographical of all her stories,” according to Gilman (Introduction xvi). More significantly, “It was not intended to drive people insane; rather, it was intended to rescue people from being driven insane, and it worked” (20), says Gilman in her article for The Forerunner. As a result, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feelings are revealed in “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
When “The Yellow Wallpaper” was published in 1892, critics regarded it as a depiction of female insanity rather than a glimpse into society. A doctor from Boston stated in The Transcript that such a tale should not be written because it was enough to drive anyone insane to read it (19). This assertion implies that any woman who would write something to express her discontent with prevailing social norms must have been made.
Setting in Gilman’s day “The ideal woman was not only assigned a social role that confined her to her home but she was also expected to enjoy it, be happy and gay, smiling and pleasant,” says Lane. Those who refused this place would be derided, distanced, and even punished. When Gilman attempted to express her desire for freedom, she experienced precisely what happened.
In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Gilman expresses her repressed emotional and psychological responses to society’s disapproval of women who think freely in the late 1800s. The pressure of these prevalent social norms was behind her taking Dr. S. Weir Mitchell’s “rest cure.” Because she came from a family of well-known feminists and revolutionaries, it’s clear that she grew up believing she had the right to be treated equally whether male or female.
This rich background had a great impact on her ideas about topics, as well as her interactions with her spouse and what part she would play in the relationship. From the start of their marriage, she has struggled with the concept of conforming to the conventional pattern for women. When Gilman’s husband, Stetson repeatedly proposed to her, she attempted to “unveil [her] torments and reservations” regarding getting married (Lane, To Herland 85).
“She maintained that her thoughts, actions, and entire life would be centered on her husband and children. To do the work she needed to accomplish, she must be free,” according to Lane (To Herland 85). Gilman was terrified of this concept because she liked her job and loved freedom; nevertheless, she also adored her spouse.
“After a lengthy period of hesitation and vacillation,” she married Charles Stetson at 24 (Lane, Introduction x). Gilman’s feelings of nervous weariness” descended on her less than a year later, and she became a mental wreck. “In that time, she produced several essays regarding women who are caught in families and jobs while also needing to have love in their lives “(Ceplair 19).
Under the strain of Gilman’s refusal to accept the “domestic model” of women, she fell into a nervous breakdown. She met Dr. S. Weir Mitchell when she was in distress over her work, marriage, and child. She did her best to combat her sadness but ultimately “she just completely collapsed in April 1886″ (Ceplair 19), forcing her to seek help from Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, a well-known neurologist specializing in female nervous disorders.
Although the term “nervousness” is not used in this passage, it may be assumed that it refers to neurasthenia. “She was suffering from neurasthenia, or exhaustion of the nerves,” Dr. Lane tells Gilman (Lane, To Herland 115). The cure called for “1) extended and total bed rest; 2) isolation from family and familiar surroundings?” (Lane, To Herland 116). The therapy was little more than a guide on how to be obedient and domestic according to society’s dominant social values.
At the end of the twentieth century, Joanna is a housewife and mother in New York who has been raising her daughter Allie for four years. She decides to find out more about what happens to women after they give birth so she read books on mothers and childbirth. After reading one such book, “To Herland,” however, she became dissatisfied with how familiar everything seemed and decided that she needed to go there herself.
Women in the late 1800s did not have the option of having a career alongside their families. If they want to pursue a profession, they must give up their children. Despite her controversial ideas, Gilman chose to prioritize her job over her family when she divorced her spouse in 1887 and relocated to California. She gave her kid to him three years later so that she could lecture all around the country while he stayed at home with his new wife.
In 1890, she released “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a response to Dr. S. Weir Mitchell’s “rest cure.” In her Forerunner essay, Gilman recounts the years she endured from a severe and continuous nervous collapse and goes on to explain how she was treated by a doctor who had “sent a copy to the physician who had nearly driven me insane” (Gilman 19, 20).
She also says, “the finest results?” After three years, she was informed that the treating specialist had confessed to friends of his that he had changed his treatment of neurasthenia after reading The Yellow Wallpaper (Gilman 20). Despite what Gilman claimed, we can detect a tone in this work that appears to be quite close to her emotional and psychological truth.
To what extent was Charlotte Perkins Gilman influenced by the public’s response to her husband’s mental illness? There are numerous interpretations about her intentions for writing “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Joanne Karpinski notes, “one motif that runs through all of her works is a yearning for structure and coherence inexperienced life” (3), while Lane adds, “(it) is an intensely personal exploration of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s private nightmare.” (To Herland 127).
The conclusion that she wrote this story to express her own personal emotions and anxieties implies that she composed it to work through her feelings and fears. It is also true that if her desire for vengeance against Dr. Mitchell was a driving force behind the writing of this work, it is also true that the creation of this tale allows her to expose her emotional and psychological state of mind. Although “The Yellow Wallpaper” is most likely fictitious, there are several parallels between Gilman’s actual-life experience and what is described in the narrative.
Lane repeats a passage from Gilman’s diary, in which she notes, “I made a rag baby and hung it on the doorknob to play with it. To escape the grating pressure of that deep anguish, I would crawl into distant closets and beneath beds” (To Herland 121). This is eerily similar to what happens to the narrator in the narrative, who crawls and creeps throughout the room.
In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman demonstrated her emotions and attempted to find out “what happens to our lives if we let others run them for us.” (Lane, Introduction xviii) The endeavor to discover was difficult for her: “(t)he answers must have haunted Gilman all of her life because it addressed the question: what if she had not fled her husband and rejected the most up-to-date psychiatric advice at the time?” (Lane, Introduction xviii). “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a testament to Gilman’s own life experience.
The impact of society’s influence on individuals’ lives is apparent in this story, especially Lane’s life. “We can feel her terrible decisions and how they affected her emotionally,” says Lane, referring to “perhaps the emotional truth and intensity of The Yellow Wallpaper drained her; perhaps it terrified her” (To Herland 127). In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman went deeply into her emotions and feelings, which is why it is known today as Gilman’s most recognized work (Charters 318).
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