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Critical Approaches: The Yellow Wallpaper
Transcript of Critical Approaches: The Yellow Wallpaper
* She knows that what she has is serious but would not dare to disagree with two physicians of such high standing.
* She also realizes that bed rest will not help her get any better, saying; “Personally, I disagree. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?” Moral Message The moral message behind the Yellow Wallpaper is that you should never hide or suppress your own nature because being yourself is crucial for a happy life. This can be demonstrated by the narrators discontent in her life. Biographical Information Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born on July 3, 1860 in Hartford, Connecticut. She had a difficult childhood. Her father abandoned the family, leaving Charlotte's mother to raise two children on her own. Gilman moved around a lot as a result and her education suffered greatly for it.
She was a prominent American sociologist, novelist, writer of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and a lecturer for social reform. She was a "utopian feminist" during a time when her accomplishments were exceptional for women, and she served as a role model for future generations of feminists because of her unorthodox concepts and lifestyle. As a feminist, she called for women to gain economic independence, and the work helped cement her standing as a social theorist.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman married artist Charles Stetson in 1884. The couple had a daughter named Katherine. Sometime during her marriage to Stetson, Gilman experienced a severe depression and underwent a series of unusual treatments for it. Her short story The Yellow Wallpaper can be considered semi-autobiographical, because she wrote the story after a severe case of postpartum psychosis.
In 1900, Charlotte Perkins Gilman had married for the second time. She wed her cousin George Gilman, and the two stayed together until his death in 1934. The next year she discovered that she had inoperable breast cancer. Charlotte Perkins Gilman committed suicide on August 17, 1935. Feminist Approach * The voice of women is suppressed in this story.
* The narrator (female) has no power in her life; her husband controls everything and she lets him.
* Story is set in the 19th century—this is a normal husband/wife relationship in that time.
* Throughout the story the main character is freeing herself from his control and finding herself. Feminist Approach Narrators Submission Defiance * There are other things the narrator disagrees with her husband about:
o He says he notices a lot of improvement, especially in her appetite and appearance.
o She argues and says that she weighs the same, and he berates her for not trusting his professional opinion, saying he should trust her because he is a doctor and wants the best for her.
o She continues to write in her journal secretly, even though John is against it and thinks it is hurting her
* These moments of defiance, the arguing and disobeying orders, are signs of the narrator starting to free herself from John. * She spends most of the story studying the wallpaper in her room
* Notices what appears to be the figure of a woman trapped behind bars
* The woman is trying to free herself, and the narrator decides to help
* She starts ripping the paper off the wall—as she tears off more and more she seems to get crazier, claiming to have let the woman loose. It becomes
evident to the reader that the woman in the wallpaper is her, that she is finally free.
* When John comes in, he faints at the sight. She becomes irritated, because “he did [faint], and right across my path by he wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!”
* She realizes that he is in her way and she needs to step over him. She discovers her own power and realizes he has been holding her back. She rises above him both literally and figuratively and is finally free. The Wallpaper Formalistic Approach Beginning The narrator of the story is writing in her journal, in which she keeps hidden from her husband John. She moved into a temporary residence for the summer, and is kept in her room due to her “nervous illness”. John is a physician, and the woman’s personal doctor. He believes that in order for her to get well, she needs to limit physical activity and also writing, which explains why she must keep her journal a secret. She disagrees with John in her journal, writing that excitement and change would be a good cure for her illness. She marvels at the house, but the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom has her disgusted. Middle As the story moves on, the narrator begins to notice irregular patterns in the wallpaper, saying it contains eyes that stare her down, enraging her. She tells John about the wallpaper, but instead of re-papering the wall, he leaves it the way it is in hopes of helping his wife get better. The narrator attempts to find out the secret behind the patterns in the wallpaper, and is losing much sleep to it. John however, is oblivious to this and believes her condition is improving. End The wallpaper continues to change, revealing a woman who creeps behind the pattern, which acts as bars that restrain her. The woman tries to break free of the bars (pattern), shaking them, which causes the pattern to change in the eyes of the narrator. One night, she attempts to remove the paper off of the wall, biting and scratching at it in an attempt to set free the woman. Days later, John stays overnight in town, leaving the narrator alone in her room. She locks herself in the house and throws the key out of the window so that only John can get in. John eventually comes home to the mess where she tells him that she’s now free of the wallpaper and can’t be put back into it. Literary Devices “I don't know why I should write this. I don't want to. I don't feel able.”
Anaphora: the repetition of “I don’t” in 3 consecutive sentences.
“If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an interminable string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless convolutions--why, that is something like it.”
Imagery: the use of descriptive words to create a mental image of the wallpaper’s pattern. Setting The setting takes place in John’s house for the summer. It is described as a haunted house at first, due to it being empty for so long, even with its low price. This is suiting as it sets the atmosphere as eerie, which ties in closely to what the narrator sees in the wallpaper. Characterization Narrator: The writer of the journal and wife of John. She suffers a “nervous illness”, and disagrees with the treatment she has been given to cure it, refraining from physical activity and writing. She is very secretive, as she keeps her obsession with the wallpaper to herself, and hides the diary from everyone. This also makes her deceptive, as she makes John believe everything is fine.
John: The narrator’s husband. He is a physician, and treats the narrator for her illness. He is naïve, as he believes his treatments are curing her, and does not see that she is slowly goes insane. Psychoanalytical Approach The Id The wallpaper in the story mainly represents the id. The id is the pleasure seeking part of our subconscious that is destructive and mainly relies on impulse. At first, the narrator doesn’t understand the wallpaper and it frustrates her to look at it, all worn out, torn and ugly in her eyes.. Slowly though it becomes her main goal to figure out its message and see what the pattern is. She begins to see a trapped woman in the bedroom wall and becomes obsessed with her. She tries to help free her by tearing down the paper. When she finally frees her she realizes it is her who is trying to get free of her husband and life. She is determined not to go back into the controlled life she was in but to live freely. Even though she is free in the process of doing so she has spiraled into delusion. “I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder.’I've got out at last,’ said I, ‘in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!’ Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!” The Ego The narrator in the story represents the ego. The ego is partially unconscious and acts as a balance between the id and super ego. The narrator struggles between listening to what her husband John says and what she wants. She knows she has to listen to John since he’s a doctor and knows best. But she wants to do what she wants even knowing that it could risk her health. John’s way of treating her sickness is to have her do nothing and communicate with no one. This type of treatment does not make her happy, as she wants to go on a trip, see relatives and write. This restriction she has from what she wants causes conflict in her mind.
“I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus—but John says the very worst thing I can do is think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad. So I will let it alone and talk about the house.” The Superego The husband John represents the superego in this story. The super ego can be described as something that blocks impulses towards pleasure that society regards as unacceptable. Even though it seems like john doesn’t care about his wife that’s actually how gender roles were back then. He restricts what she can do because he cares about her and thinks that this method of treatment will help her. What she perceives as being hard on her and unfair is really just him trying his best to treat her with the knowledge he has.
“So I take phosphates or phosphites--whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to ‘work’ until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do? Traditional Approach Historical Information The American Economical Depression: The Panic of 1893 was a serious economic depression in the United States that began in 1893. It was marked by the collapse of railroad overbuilding and unreliable railroad financing, resulting in a series of bank failures. That combined with the market overbuilding and the railroad bubble resulted in the finical downfall. The Panic of '93 was the worst economic depression the United States had ever experienced at the time. Social Reform and Feminism: 19th-century feminists reacted not only to the injustices they saw but also against the increasingly suffocating Victorian image of the "proper" role of women and their "sphere". Throughout the 19th century many authors (both male and female) were producing literature that reinforced the message of feminism, for example, Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy. Many male authors recognized the injustice women faced. Fin