Gilman–The Yellow Wallpaper–Group 1

How would you compare the voice and the situation of the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” to the voice and situation of an obsessed narrators from the Poe stories we read? How, if at all, does the explicit introduction of medical professionals affect your reading when compared to their absence in Poe?

5 thoughts on “Gilman–The Yellow Wallpaper–Group 1

  1. Thomas Dillon

    The narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is much more charismatic and simply easier to root for as a reader. One noticeable difference between this narrator and Egaeus in “Berenice” stems from the absurdity in their descriptions of their own perceived “madness” or mentall illness. Egaeus seemingly flaunts his status as an individual suffering from monomania, constantly referencing this, almost utilizing it as a justification for his deeply dark obsessions and tendencies. Gilman’s narrator, however, subtly questions her treatment, diagnosis, and overall state/quality of life. She ponders as if activity and writing would improve her situation, to the point where she keeps a secret journal. As a reader, I empathize with her situation much more than I do with Egaesus’, because she has no auntonomy and is essentially a prisoner. The explicit introduction of medical professionals in Gilman’s story affects my interpretation of the narrator because it adds a further context to the story by juxtaposing the supposed mentally ill narrator with the society, allowing us to understand the societal-driven reasoning behind her diagnosis.

    This layer of person vs society is simply nonexistent in Poe’s work, seemingly only serving as a disturbing tale of man vs self. It’s practically a monologue of madness and perversed desires, while Gilman’s narrator is crafted as a longing for freedom or self-expression of any kind.

  2. Paolo Gonnelli

    Maybe it is a modern view, but I feel that the presence of a somewhat explicit diagnosis in “The Yellow Wallpaper” gives the the narrative voice more gravitas than the one in Poe. We know that the narrator has something considered wrong by the standards of her society, while in Poe I feel that is left to the reader, it is an assumption of sorts that is never confirmed for us. At the same time, I struggle to go down that path of “diagnosis” because the narrator in Gilman is clearly not mad initially, but is rather pushed towards madness, so the diagnosis becomes in my opinion a self-fulfilling prophecy. By making the narrator believe she is mad, she is driven to madness. Thus, her obsession with the patterns in the wallpaper feels artificial yet not in any way less real. As Madison pointed out, there is a major difference in the two narrators in terms of the control they have over themselves and their actions. Poe’s narrator seems to justify himself, to say “I had no other choice” but really he did have a choice, and the fact that the act in itself is shrouded in a foggy forgetfulness is very convenient to him. Gilman’s narrator instead has little to no control, in the first pages she writes more than once “what can one do?” Showing clearly how little control she actually has. So then I think it is even more important when at the end she takes action and locks herself in the room and throws away the key. It is as if her becoming mad is a way to gain control, to re-obtain her agency. Quite the opposite to Poe’s narrator, from whom I got the feeling when reading as if he had “let go” of himself and his potential madness (which we are only led to believe so) is just an excuse. In this sense, I feel Gilman’s narrator is just much stronger than Poe’s as she suffers from the imposed rest cure and from the obsession of the wallpaper’s pattern. At the end, she breaks those restraints, and the woman in the wallpaper breaks out, and I just get a feeling as if the narrator is capable of anything , after all she is finally free from those yellow chains.

  3. Madison Brito

    Perhaps this is not for the best, but I can’t help but see the inevitable differences in voice and situation simply given their gender; while both narrators are descending into madness in some way, the control they would each possess given the context completely warps the feeling you’re left with. Gilman’s character has none, and what I find particularly disturbing about this is the lack of control she has over her own body. Poe’s narrator literally steals a body part from Berenice, while Gilman’s physical freedom is dictated by her husband (arguably in more ways than one, for instance the expectations put on a woman of this time to give birth, not express overt sexuality, or male reactions to their mental state. Having her husband be a physician only seems to intensify her lack of control, as he would be seen with more authority and even better equipped to ‘treat’ her given his status as a doctor). These two narrators portray the protagonist who drives the plot vs. the one without control of it, which leaves you with a totally different opinion regarding their madness. The way John describes the narrator as a “little girl” and puts her in a “nursery” like room makes him feel like the perverse one, just as you’re disturbed by the narrator’s distortion of a grown woman in Berenice (though in a different way). As Karianne and Timothy have noted, you feel sympathy for the narrator. The introduction of medical professionals intensified this effect while I was reading; it makes the story feel somehow more real, not like a spooky horror story you’d tell around a campfire, which was quite honestly sometimes the feeling I got from Berenice. Someone who is supposed to be helping her, a figure we see as a healer, is doing the opposite; your trust as a reader somehow feels betrayed, and you’re left on the side of the narrator. For me, that’s the largest difference: she did not do this to herself, but rather this is done to her. Egaeus’ excuse of mere monomania is a much harder pill to swallow.

  4. Timothy DeLorenzo

    I have more sympathy for the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” than the narrators in the Poe works we’ve read. The narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” sees beauty in her surroundings and opportunity in her mental state. The narrator may fixate on the yellow wallpaper in a way that reminds the reader of Bartleby, but she also stares out of the window, and notices as people as they walk by the paths and arbors. She ponders the flowers and people with agency. She takes fancy in other things, but her husband John does not like when she takes fancy in things. The husband is very controlling and abusive. He’s worried that fancying things and longing will drive her mad, but also uses his worry of her going mad to justify why she must be confined to herself and her longings. She longs to be free, and says that getting out and doing some work could positively affect her mental state. But John does not want her working. John does not even allow her to journal. The narrator doesn’t really seem as mad as the situation that she’s been held captive in. She seems pretty meditative in a way that Poe’s narrators did not.

    When the narrator refers to the negative aspects of her mental health, she always seems to be doing so with John’s words. It’s also interesting that staring at a piece of art in a museum could be a sign of mental acuity, while staring at visual art on wallpaper is odder.

  5. Karianne Laird

    In my opinion, the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is much more sympathetic than Poe’s narrators in “Berenice” or “Ligeia”. This narrator is trapped. She is trapped in her gender, in her house, in her marriage, in her class and in her head. The reader sympathizes with the narrator because she is the victim of a husband and society that patronize her and confine her to loneliness and claustrophobia. I think most people can relate to the feeling that when one is lonely with no distractions one can easily spiral and lose oneself in irrational thoughts. This seems to be what happens to the narrator and this lack of control plays an important role in making her a relatable character. Poe’s characters, on the other hand, seem to be both more in control (at least most of the time) and also inflict pain on others. The agency in the situation and the lack of remorse in the narrator’s voice definitely makes them less relatable narrators.

    Another factor that makes the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” quite different from Poe’s narrators, is that we follow her gradual deterioration. With Gilman’s character, there is a logical progression to her “insanity”. At the beginning of the story the narrator is quite “normal” – she could be any one of us. Then, we witness the mental constraints placed upon her and see how she is forced to hide her anxieties behind the façade of a happy married life. We see how the passivity and repression she is forced to endure makes her long for an outlet. She becomes fixated on the wallpaper – one of the only things she can look at. This is a very relatable and common human instinct. I clearly remember staring up at the ceiling while I tried to sleep as a child, making out shapes in the dark, looking for some sort of distraction. Because we hear her explain and we follow her story over a longer time period, her story is put in context. This is in stark contrast to Poe’s male narrators. In “Berenice” we came upon a man who has just committed a terrible act to someone he loved, without even sounding regretful – this a difficult circumstance to fathom for most readers.

    I also thought it was interesting that in some ways the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” was more aware in her madness at the end of the story than she was at the beginning. She no longer talked about her husband in a loving way and no longer believed that he was doing everything to help her, which to the reader, indeed, it did not seem like he was.

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