Misunderstood Struggles

The_Yellow_Wallpaper“The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John.

He seems very queer sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look.

It strikes me occasionally, just as a scientific hypothesis, that perhaps it is the paper!

I have watched John when he did not know I was looking, and came into the room suddenly on the most innocent excuses, and I’ve caught him several times looking at the paper! And Jennie too. I caught Jennie with her hand on it once… Then she said that the paper stained everything it touched, that she had found yellow smooches on all my clothes and John’s and she wished we would be more careful!” (92)

            Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper focuses on a young woman’s battle with depression, isolation, and emotional abuse. Gilman based the story on her own experiences with severe depression, which eventually led to her committing suicide. The above passage explores how the wallpaper, which is a metaphor for the narrator’s depression, affects the lives of those in the story. In the story John and Jennie are staring at the torn and ugly yellow wallpaper continuously. The narrator catches them several different times and realizes that the paper is not only bothering her but also them. My interpretation of this is that the wallpaper represents her depression. “There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes start at you upside down. I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl” (86). This demonstrates how the wallpaper relates to depression. The narrator is feeling the ups and downs of her depression and the frustration of its “everlastingness.” Even when she cannot relate to the others in the story she can relate to the yellow wallpaper. Because the wallpaper represents the depression, she hates it, just as she hates her own illness.

The narrator describes how the children who lived in the house previously “had perseverance as well as hatred” (87) when tearing apart the wallpaper. This could be a metaphor for how the people in the narrator’s lives are tearing her apart and making her depression worse. “He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self control” (90) John, her husband, is emotionally abusing her because he blames her for her depression and is not supportive. He tells all of their family that there is nothing wrong with her. John considers it a “slight hysterical tendency” (83), which is completely downplaying the seriousness of the narrator’s depression. He constantly tells her what she should be doing and discourages creativity, claiming his profession as a physician lends him the knowledge to assess her situation correctly. At one point he says, “I am a doctor, dear, and I know” (91). Although, how could he truly know how she is feeling inside of her mind?

The passage I chose uses many exclamation points. I believe this is to show that the narrator is getting more and more nervous or paranoid. The exclamation points are generally after talking about the wallpaper, showing how serious and intertwined the depression is within the narrator’s life. Gilman also italicized the phrase “looking at the paper!” to emphasize the shock that has overcome the narrator when noticing John and Jennie constantly studying the wallpaper. It has become her obsession as stated on page 88, “It dwells in my mind so!” and she does not want the others to notice. As they have constantly told her to push away her depression and to get better, she does not want them to notice that she getting worse. Just as she does not want them to notice the wallpaper, representing her struggles. In reality, however, both Jennie and John have noticed and are affected by her depression. When Jennie says that she keeps finding yellow stains on John and the narrator’s clothing, she is hinting that the depression is affecting both her and John. The narrator begins to realize this by page 95 when she says “I feel sure John and Jennie are affected by it.”

A main theme that this passage brings out in relation to the whole piece is that the narrator is not listened to or understood. She listens to and follows her husband and his diagnosis, even though she says “Personally, I disagree with their ideas” (83). This relates to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Birth-mark and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Oval Portrait. In The Birth-mark, Georgiana disagreed with her husband’s idea of the imperfection of her birthmark at first, but then ends up following along with her husband. She loved him so much that she would do anything he asked, even risk her life. In The Oval Portrait, the woman did not want to sit in a room week after week as her husband painted a picture of her. However, she ended up doing as he wished because she loved him. The common theme in all of these stories is the obedience and dependency of the female characters rather than their freedom and independence. Although they may have defied their husband’s thoughts and ideas in their heads, they never did so in their actions. 


Unwrapping Sanity

“The front pattern does move—and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over. Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard. And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads. They get through and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white!” (94).

            Centering on a woman’s struggle with depression, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s battle with the illness herself inspired the short story The Yellow Wallpaper. The plot starts out with the narrator and her husband, a physician named John, staying in a mansion in order for her to regain strength. She is left alone sometimes with John’s sister, the housekeeper, when he goes on house calls. While sequestered in the upstairs nursery converted into a bedroom, the woman ruminates about the distasteful wallpaper surrounding her. She realizes after constant scrutiny that the patterns begin to change throughout the day and especially at night. Utilizing the woman’s obsession with the wallpaper visions, Gilman showcases how the journey through depression can consume an individual’s sense of self.

Amidst the waves of color and arabesque swirls, the narrator begins to notice the patterns moving and a woman taking form underneath. Gilman italicizes the word “does” in the above quotation in order to illustrate the woman’s surprise at the personification of the wallpaper. She gradually becomes entranced by watching the woman struggle to break free. The parallel between the two is evident: both are in a state of entrapment. The imagined woman is physically behind the patterning. The narrator, on the other hand, is in a more complex situation. Controlled by her husband, she does not have much say over what goes on in her life. She “take[s] pains to control [her]self—before him, at least” (84), so that he will be appeased, since he is a high class physician and should know what is best for her. John constantly tells her to rest and neglect her passion of writing in order to alleviate the depression. Her husband’s expectations strain their relationship, making the narrator feel trapped like the woman she sees in the wallpaper. Thus, the wallpaper woman is a culmination of the narrator’s anxiety. Many times, people seek solace in someone who has gone through the same situation for relief. The narrator, however, does not relate to anyone in the story, so she creates an entity that mirrors her situation. This imagined woman embodies the feelings that the narrator possesses, even though she does not have real people and emotions trapping her.

In order to mimic the narrator’s struggles, Gilman personifies the pattern by writing that it strangles anyone who attempts to escape. This parallels the narrator’s battle with depression and her attempt to reconcile John’s idea of getting better with her own. Imagining the wallpaper coming to life also allows the woman to have a secret creative outlet. This, however, quickly turns into an obsession when she constantly holes herself up in her room solely to watch for any changes in the wallpaper. She tells John’s sister that she would “undoubtedly rest better for a night all alone” in order to keep her late night viewings a secret (95). By doing this, the narrator is still in touch with reality enough to realize the expectations of others. However, as the story unfolds, she quickly loses her sense of what is real. At the end, she is totally consumed by the idea of the woman trapped in the wallpaper, and the narrator begins to take on the imagined person’s characteristics. She starts “creeping” around the floor, clawing at the wallpaper to break free and even trying to bite off a chunk of her wooden bed frame (96). This obsession culminates in the last sentence of the story, when the narrator shouts, “‘I’ve got out at last…in spite of you [John] and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!’” (97). Speaking as though she is the wallpaper woman, the narrator has officially lost all sense of self. Emotionally strained, she clung to an imagined person which ultimately led to the death of her sanity.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story of the narrator’s struggle to cope gives insight to readers about a particular experience with depression and the effect it can have upon the human psyche. The story also sparks the question as to if the author’s own struggle with depression resembled that in her story, and if the illness can be dealt with in a way that does not ultimately harm the individual.

Hopeless Hope

“But the Raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only (55)
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour. (56)
Nothing farther then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered- (57)
Till I scarcely more than muttered: ‘Other friends have flown before- (58)
On the morrow he will leave me as my Hopes have flown before.’ (59)
Then the bird said, ‘Nevermore.’” (60)
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” projects a narrator who is depressed and hopeless after the recent death of a loved one, Lenore. The narrator attempts to rid himself of the memories of Lenore but continually brings her up. He looks to the Raven for guidance on whether or not he will see her again but the Raven simply says ‘Nevermore’. While the Raven is simply doing what it knows to do, the narrator takes this answer as absolute.
In the passage I choose, at line 58, Poe’s beautiful word choice of ‘flown’ is incredibly appropriate to the story. Not only does the word add to the flow with alliteration, it foreshadows the idea that the narrator is afraid of the Raven leaving him. The fact that the narrator is afraid of such a miniscule animal as a Raven to leave him shows that he is very desperate for companionship. But, due to his depressed outlook he favors the idea that the raven will fly away just like the rest of his friends. The rhythm that Poe created really allows for a punch line of sorts to incur and allow the reader to sink in the important words that the narrator is muttering.
Another important idea to mention is the fact that Poe makes an effort to capitalize ‘Hopes’ in line 59. As we normally capitalize for a proper noun, I figure Poe is likely making a spiteful reference to Lenore who has passed. Also being that we do not exactly know who or what Lenore was to the narrator, his hopes of Lenore could have been a wide range of subjects. Also, it is of note that if ‘Hopes’ is indeed Lenore then the “other friends have flown before” statement is almost saying that the other friends that have flown are not as significant as when his Hopes, Lenore, had flown.
The agitation that the narrator expresses in the passage I selected shows a growing frustration that shines even more as the story progresses. The Raven’s saying of ‘Nevermore’ is absolutely driving him crazy and in this passage I believe that we see the most evident beginning of this frustration. Similar to the heart beating in Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” we see repetition of a simple sound or word that slowly drives the narrator crazy until the end of the story where he ‘snaps’. I think it’s important to mention that the Raven is likely only doing what it was taught, which was to say ‘Nevermore’. The importance lies in the fact that the narrator is using the Raven to look for answers when in reality it is just a on a playback-loop. However, he seems not really surprised or disappointed in the answers, it’s just something that the narrator needed to hear to realize what he already knew or suspected.