Author: dsarina

Pickling the Cucumber

In “The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl” by Agatha Christie, the word cucumber is used to foreshadow the occurrence of Anthony Eastwood getting into a “pickle” or a difficult situation.


In this story, the cucumber is used as opposed to any other vegetable because it can be soaked in vinegar and turned into a pickle which makes it a good candidate to represent the difficult situations Anthony Eastwood gets himself into. Anthony was not in distress when he first typed “cucumber”, or even when he said it to the old lady in the shop. The trouble happened when he acted upon the word and marched up the stairs the old woman pointed out after the “cucumber” pass code was said, right into the vinegar, and got himself in a pickle. He walked straight into the trap set by the girl at the top of the stairs as he was “never one to miss opportunities, [and] echoed her fervently” (p.191). It seemed that his curiosity was the vinegar in this case. The “cucumber” by itself, or just saying that word, was not the problem; the situation was only aggravated by Anthony’s curiosity, but he would not have gotten himself into a pickle if there had not been a cucumber in the first place. It seemed that the longer he spent with the girl, trying to satisfy his curiosity, the longer he metaphorically soaked in the vinegar, which gave her accomplices time to get there and completely put him in a pickle. In this way, the word “cucumber” seemed to foreshadow trouble for Anthony. If Anthony had suppressed his curiosity and had not acted upon the word cucumber, he would not have gotten himself into a problematic situation.

Undetected Insanity

The governess in “The Turn of the Screw” is not a reliable narrator since she is losing her sanity. She is making connections between real life and things that do not exist. One example of this is in chapter 17 when the governess falsely perceives a chilly wind coming into the room closely followed by a shriek from Miles and then darkness. “So for a moment we remained, while I stared about me and saw that the drawn curtains were unstirred and the window tight. ‘Why, the candle’s out!’ I then cried. ‘It was I who blew it, dear!’ said Miles” (373). It seems that the governess believes that the cold gust she felt blew out the candle. The gust was not real, but she connected it to the real life occurrence of the candle being put out.  It can be inferred that the narrator is losing her sanity when it is mentioned that both the window and curtains are undisturbed. Miles justifies this further when he states that he blew the candle out. When it says that “she stared about her” it could imply that she is confused and flustered. She seemingly wonders why the gust occurred and “stare[s] about her” to find the cause, but finds none. This should have been proof to herself that she was going mad. This is one of the scenes that makes the narrator’s reliability decrease. The governess is the narrator and her perception of wind is proven wrong. It is hard to tell how many of the other things she has described might not be real either. If she is insane, she has low credibility as a narrator, and it is possible that other claims she has made in the story are false.

Fighting Oppression

“There are things in the wallpaper that nobody knows about but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder – I begin to think – I wish John would take me away from here!” (Gilman 90)

            I chose this passage from the “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman because it represents both society at that time, and the narrator’s changing condition. When the narrator stated that the wallpaper contained things that “nobody knows about but (her), or ever will”, it revealed that she was hiding something about her true nature (Gilman 90). Her true nature seemed to be to retaliate against authority and it became “clearer” to her every day. She concealed her writing activities which had been restricted by her husband who controlled almost every aspect of her life. He had said that it was bad for her, but on a deeper level, he was preventing her from gaining freedom from his control. He wanted her to suppress her imagination or anything that was out of the norm. It was unnatural for a woman to disobey her husband at that time, so the narrator had to hide her thoughts and passions.

            At the beginning of the story the room with the disgusting yellow wallpaper seemingly represented a prison. The narrator stated that “the windows (were) barred for little children, and there (were) rings and things in the walls.” (Gilman 84). The barred windows symbolized the bars of a jail cell while the rings most likely represented handcuffs and chains. The only time her husband was not in control of her was when she was in the room with the hideous yellow wallpaper partially described above. As the story progressed the prison-like room seemed to get more comfortable as her husband became stranger to her. She got used to the room with the wallpaper and less familiar with John as room and wallpaper started representing freedom. In the passage above, she saw more than just the confusing pattern on the wallpaper that is shown during the day. By the moonlight, she saw lots of little women “stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern” (Gilman 90). The pattern represented bars like the ones on a jail cell, and also like the bars over the narrator’s windows. The women that she saw represented herself and the many other women in society who were oppressed by their husbands. If the women did anything other than what they were told, they had to “creep” or keep it hidden. When she finally tore the paper down, she felt like she is freeing herself and the women as she disobeyed John’s orders not to pay attention to such impulses as concentrating on the wallpaper.

            The next part of the passage described the narrator wishing that “John would take (her) away from here” (Gilman 90). She had expressed this to him, and been ignored. Many other requests had been ignored too. At the beginning of the story and well into the middle, the narrator had stated that she was trying to do as she was told, and seemed to feel guilty for not appreciating all of John’s kindness. As her requests for comfort (such as asking to leave, remove the wallpaper, and have company over) were ignored she started realizing that he was causing most of her stress and only “pretended to be very loving and kind” (Gilman 95). Once she understood this, she suddenly did not care about pleasing John anymore. She did not care about her sanity. She had only been taking remedies and doing what she was told in order to make him happy. He and his opinions no longer seemed to matter to her, and so when he fainted in front of her, she was not even phased.