Madness and Confinement in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper" and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre


Seminararbeit, 2005
15 Seiten, Note: 1,5

Leseprobe

Contents

1 Introduction

2 Madness and Confinement in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
2.1 The Role of the Mad Woman
2.1.1 The Angel in the House: Confined Victorian Women
2.1.2 The Monster in the House
2.2 Gender-Biased Treatment of Mental Illness and Male Anxieties
2.3 Triumph versus Defeat

3 Conclusion

4 Bibliography

1 Introduction

A reader of nineteenth century literature by women is bound to encounter a striking coherence of theme and imagery throughout all genres. One of the recurring themes is that of madness and confinement. The often cited “Mad Woman in the Attic,”[1] who is locked away by male authority, appears as a central figure both in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” written in 1890, and Charlotte Brontë’s famous novel Jane Eyre, which was published in 1847. This essay will seek to explore similarities between the two works in respect to their description of madness as an escape from repressive social structures. The mad woman will be discussed as representing a rebellious double to the submissive heroine, who appears to be fragmented and confined by Victorian conventions of propriety.

Emphasis will be laid as well on the medical treatment of mental illnesses that both texts deal with. It will be shown that gender-biased medical judgments made by men in both works actually have their origin in subconscious male anxieties.

2 Madness and Confinement in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

2.1 The Role of the Mad Woman

2.1.1 The Angel in the House: Confined Victorian Women

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story „The Yellow Wall-Paper“ is the account of a woman who is prescribed a rest cure in a room she dislikes without being allowed any activity, and who starts to write down her thoughts and feelings. The unnamed narrator writes about her stay in a colonial mansion during the summer in twelve undated diary-like entries. Her husband John, who is a doctor, believes that perfect rest will cure his wife’s “temporary nervous depression”[2] and does not want her to work or write. The woman is becoming more and more irritated by and obsessed with the wallpaper that covers her room and believes that she can perceive a woman behind the pattern until one day she strips off the paper in an action of madness and crawls on the floor like an animal.

Many critics have dealt with this gripping story since its republication in 1973 and have offered, as Elaine R. Hedges noted, “a dazzling and significantly disparate array of interpretations.”[3] Most critics, however, widely agreed that the story deals with gender politics and the situation of a woman struggling with Victorian conventions and social restrictions. First the narrator sticks to these conventions of propriety and succumbs to patriarchal repression. But then she secretly revolts against it by writing the diary and disobeying her husband’s orders. Trying to escape her confinement she flees into madness with the wallpaper encoding her repressive surroundings.

As a consequence, when analyzing “The Yellow Wall-Paper” one must take into account the situation of women in the British society during the Victorian Era, at the end of which the story was written. Just as the Victorian period was in many respects characterized by contradictions the status of women was also ambiguous. On the one hand, society had the vision of the ‘ideal woman,’ who was seen as pure and clean and whose maternal love was glorified. On the other hand, women had no legal rights, they had to stay self-sacrificingly in the private sphere and take on the role of the ‘angel in the house.’

In her first entries the narrator is obviously drawn between opposing attitudes concerning her role as a Victorian wife and mother. On the one hand, she tries to be “such a real help to John, such a real rest and comfort,” and it weighs on her that she cannot do her “duty in any way” (YP 6). On the other hand, she states that she disagrees with her husband’s prescription and she laments that “it is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work” (YP 7). Although she comments that “one expects that in marriage” (YP 3, ital. mine) when John laughs at her, it is interesting to note that at the same time she distances herself from this statement by avoiding the personal pronoun “I.” The same can be said about the vague refrain “What is one to do” (YP 3), which is repeated three times. By referring to herself as “one” she generalizes her statements and avoids taking on responsibility for them. When – only rarely - using the personal pronoun “I” the narrator weakens it with “perhaps” or “personally,” for example when she writes “Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change would do me good” (YP 3). Examining this linguistic phenomenon in her essay “Teaching ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’ through the Lens of Language” Catherine J. Golden noted that “the narrator’s qualified statements reveal a hesitant and uncertain voice, shy of the definitiveness of traditionally masculine judgement.”[4] Another linguistic indicator proving that the narrator is dependent on masculine judgement is the frequent use of her husband’s name “John” in the first entries. She even creates an anaphora once by starting three successive sentences with “John”:

John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.

John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.

John is a physician, and perhaps – (I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind - ) perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.

(YP 3)

Thus, by lending her husband that dominant position in the sentence structure, the narrator reveals John’s dominance over her in real life. This hierarchical relationship between the married partners also becomes apparent in the way John addresses his wife. By calling her his “little girl” or his “blessed little goose” (YP 11, 6) he ridicules her and reduces her to the status of a child. This impression is intensified by the fact that John confines his wife to a former nursery and playroom, where “the windows are barred for little children” (YP 5).

[...]


[1] Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.

[2] Gilman, Charlotte Perkins “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” The Yellow Wall-Paper and Other Stories. Ed. Robert Shulman. Oxford, New York: Oxford UP, 1995, 3; hereafter cited parenthetically as YW.

[3] Hedges, Elaine R. “ ‘Out at last’? ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ after Two Decades of Feminist Criticism.” Critical Essays on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Ed. Joanne B. Karpinski. New York: Hall, 1992, 222.

[4] Golden, Catherine J. “Teaching ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’ through the Lens of Language.” Approaches to Teaching Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Herland. Eds. Denise D. Knight and Cynthia J. Davis. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2003, 57.

Ende der Leseprobe aus 15 Seiten

Details

Titel
Madness and Confinement in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper" and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre
Hochschule
Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen
Veranstaltung
Gender: Reading and Writing between Romanticism and the 20th Century
Note
1,5
Autor
Jahr
2005
Seiten
15
Katalognummer
V60984
ISBN (eBook)
9783638545358
Dateigröße
474 KB
Sprache
Deutsch
Schlagworte
Madness, Confinement, Charlotte, Perkins, Gilman, Yellow, Wall-Paper, Brontë, Jane, Eyre, Gender, Reading, Writing, Romanticism, Century
Arbeit zitieren
Eva Maria Krehl (Autor), 2005, Madness and Confinement in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper" and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre , München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/60984

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