Gilman–The Yellow Wallpaper–Group 2

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?

6 thoughts on “Gilman–The Yellow Wallpaper–Group 2

  1. Annabella Twomey

    The narrator in Poe’s stories and the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” have eerily similar tones as they dissect their situations with self-questioning, doubt, and increased self-awareness, as well a depiction of internal dialogue during a frenzied mania as they either come to certain realizations or have delusions and/or hallucinations which work them up into a frenzy (which is mainly the case in “The Yellow Wallpaper”). I found both of the narratorial voices interesting because both authors do a great job of giving the reader the illusion that the narrator is talking/describing their situation to them, but also the illusion that they are purely talking to themselves because their realizations are completely their own and they work themselves up even before speaking to anyone else. This is a talent that both Poe and Gilman have that they are able to make us feel less like we are being talked at by the narrator, and gradually become more and more inserted into their innermost thoughts, so much so that I begin to garner sympathy, at least for Gilman’s character. Where Egaeus comes to an epiphany by the end of the story, Gilman’s character’s situation becomes continuously ambiguous as she seemingly becomes more deranged as a result of her “treatment.” Like some of the points raised by my classmates,, given her visions, her obsession with the yellow wallpaper, and her lack of connection with reality, she becomes less reliable and it is harder to ascertain what is really happening.

    The presence of medical professionals in “The Yellow Wallpaper” only furthers my discontent and irritability with the history of study of mental illness and its perceptions, since the narrator’s treatment is so obviously flawed and useless. I was surprised by John’s continuous sympathy and care; while he was condescending and belittled her at points, I expected him to be much more forceful and harsh in his treatment plan given that the doctors at this time had discriminatory ideas about women and viewed them as inferior, fragile beings. It legitimizes the disorders in the sense that it is clear they were a societal fad that was widely acknowledged and talked about, but does not legitimize the actual treatment. It seemed by the end that Gilman’s narrator had fallen apart into a series of actions that were unexpected even in her condition, which affirmed that the physicians at this time really had skewed ideas of the effects of shutting people in complete isolation.

  2. Andreya Zvonar

    The voice of Gilman’s narrator and those of Poe’s narrators are similar in that they grow increasingly more distressed and animated as the stories progress. For example, at the beginning of “The Yellow Wallpaper” the narrator does not understand why she is put in the room; however, she does not fight it, simply asking, “But what is one to do?”. By the end, Gilman’s narrator is driven to a maddened frenzy, pulling off the wallpaper and declaring that they (John and co.) cannot put her back. Similarly, Egaeus begins by speaking eloquently in passages describing his youth and the differences between himself and Berenice. This poetic beginning to the story draws the reader to Egaeus, creating some sort of understanding and trust. By the end, as Egaeus realizes what he has done, Poe increases the pace of the story with short clauses and varying punctuation. In disbelief, Egaeus sinks into a similar madness as that of Gilman’s narrator.

    Despite the similar voices, the narrators experience vastly different situations. The male narrators garner some form of immediate trust from the reader, whereas Gilman’s female narrator is never entirely trusted. The female narrator is therefore scrutinized much more than Poe’s narrators. This scrutiny is induced by John’s dominant, male role as well as his medical background. With Poe, no one ever tells us that the narrator is a monomaniac other than the narrator himself (e.g. Egaeus: “I ill of health, and buried in gloom”). This introduction of medical professionals gives the “insanity” more credibility even though the diagnosis is treated in the most terrible way possible. Ultimately, these varying situations make the reader feel for Gilman’s narrator much more than for Poe’s narrators. Poe’s narrators appear to be victims of themselves, while Gilman’s narrator is clearly a victim of others.

  3. Michael Taylor

    One similarity between Poe and Charlotte Perkins Stetson’s narrators is the way that the pace of their speech increases with their madness. Poe expresses this though hyphenation, writing in Berenice, “What said he? —some broken sentences I heard. He told of a wild cry disturbing the silence of the night —of the gathering together of the household-of a search in the direction of the sound; —and then his tones grew thrillingly distinct as he whispered me of a violated grave —of a disfigured body!” Poe replicates his staccato style in Legia, culminating alongside the narrator’s disturbance in the concluding sentence, “can I never —can I never be mistaken — these are the full, and the black, and the wild eyes —of my lost love —of the lady —of the LADY LIGEIA.” Charlotte Perkins Stetson expresses the same disjointed flight of thoughts through paragraph breaks. Though hard to replicate without the original formatting, an example of this is her passage (with slashes denoting paragraph breaks), “I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did? / But I am securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope – you don’t get me out in the road there! / I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard! / It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please!” In the case of both authors, the narrators’ speech and thoughts accelerate through the story to a tempo of madness. Just as Charlotte Perkins’s narrator goes “[r]ound and round and round – round and round and round” her confined space until “it makes me dizzy,” we as readers are led by these narrators at increasing speed along the ruts of their mental fixations.

  4. Carl Langaker

    What struck me the most when reading “The Yellow Wallpaper” was the narrator’s childish tone. In the two pieces by Poe, it very much feels like the speakers to some extent are aware of their conditions; in particular, in “Berenice”, Egaeus specifically talks about his self-diagnosed monomania, illustrating that he recognizes that something is wrong with him. In creating this self-aware character, Poe is directly telling the reader that we should be wary of irregular/monomaniacal behavior from our narrator as we read the piece – it’s like he is waving a flashing sign at the reader, telling them not to trust the speaker. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, however, we do not see a similar level of self-awareness from our speaker. While she repeatedly asserts that she is sick, despite her husband’s beliefs, she never fully tells the reader what her condition is specifically. This creates an ambiguity, where the reader recognizes that something is wrong, but it is hard to place exactly what it is that is wrong.

    This ambiguity is further created by the style of narration, being in the form of journal-entries. Both “Berenice” and “Ligeia” are written in first-person, where we repeatedly get a view into the respective speakers’ trains-of-thought as they navigate situations; for instance, we follow Egaeus’s thoughts as he with horror realizes that he has dug up the body and extracted the teeth. However, in this piece, everything is instead presented as a series of journal-entries, meaning we don’t ever get direct insight into what the speaker is thinking. Rather, we have to interpret the story based on what she chooses to write – this for me makes her a highly unreliable narrator, as we never get an outside perspective on any of the things she is doing. She instead chooses how she wants to present every aspect of her story, narrating with a tone that asserts sanity, yet it is clear to the reader that she is anything but.

    The introduction of the brother and the husband being physicians, both of whom deny the narrator’s condition, presents an immediate red flag to the reader. This is because she repeats “what is one to do?” in response, as if to say “fine, don’t listen to my pleads for help, see what happens”. For me this casts an ominous looming shadow over the whole story, because it feels like she is fully aware of her actions and their repercussions throughout (in contrast to Egaeus). This contrasts the pieces by Poe, both of which in a weird way feel more innocent, simply because the speakers feel more isolated and alone, making their conditions somehow appear more ‘justified’.

  5. Elizabeth Srulevich

    The narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is similar to Poe’s narrators in “Berenice” and “Ligeia” in some ways and differs in others. For example, Gilman’s female narrator moves from placid reasoning at the beginning of the story to unhinged excitement by the last page, mimicking the tonal arcs of Poe’s male narrators. I also noticed that all three narrators obsess over a woman in some capacity — the creeping woman behind the wallpaper, Ligeia’s eyes, Egaeus’s cousin’s teeth — but I’m not sure what the broader meaning of this observation is, if there’s a broader meaning at all. Some differences I noticed were that (1) Gilman’s narrator was treated with condescension, as if she were a child or doll, while Poe’s male narrators were treated with dignity and respect by those who surrounded them, and (2) that Gilman’s narrator was explicitly diagnosed and treated as mentally ill from the story’s beginning, while Poe’s narrators were never explicitly characterized as such.

    On the topic of these explicit characterizations of insanity — I do think the introduction of medical professionals in Gilman’s story affected my reading of it as compared to their absence in Poe’s stories. These medical professionals — from John to the narrator’s brother to the real-life Dr. Weir Mitchell — made “The Yellow Wallpaper” a more frightening story for me. It was scarier because the way Gilman’s narrator is treated feels grounded in a reality and history I understand. Poe’s stories with their lack of “medical professionals” feel, at least to me, like they’re stuck in a vacuum. I read those stories as if I were dipping my toes into a gothic alternate universe. Especially given that it was written in a pseudo-epistolary format, reading “The Yellow Wallpaper” felt a bit more like I was reading a real account, a real woman’s decline. It was freaky!

  6. Colston Merrell

    One particularly marked way in which the situation and voice of a Poe narrator (e.g. Egaeus) are different from that of the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” has to do with the way they self-contextualize. While Egaeus is open with the reader about the “morbid irratability of… the attentive” (monomania) that he’s experiencing, little in the text suggests that this is something he’s sought medical help for (3). While it’s clear by the story’s conclusion that the narrator was very dangerous and strung out toward the outer fringes of what we might politely call “insanity” more or less the entire time, the surprised reaction of the “menial” (indeed, the very fact that this is a guy for whom people work) indicates that this is not a man who was widely expected to be going crazy. Despite the fact that Egaues describes his youthful self as “ill of health, and buried in gloom” (and we’re certainly not given any indication that his mental-health situation has improved), there’s no evidence in the text that the people around him saw any need to shut him away or prescribe some alternative lifestyle (3). This is a man who’s insanity is absolutely his own, and his preoccupations are not wasted on the thoughts or feelings or reactions of the people around him.

    While the voice of the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is not entirely dissimilar to that of the Poe narrators we’ve read (they share, among other things, a tendency toward vivid visual descriptions of their hallucinations and obsessions), her lack of personal agency and consequential self-censorship makes reading the story a much more mysterious, tight-lipped experience. Where Egaeus deludes us, we get the sense that he is not intending to; he turns on the faucet of cryptically-written information and drowns us in it in the same way he’s being drowned, but there’s never a feeling that he’s withholding from the page something that he knows clearly for fear of how it might be interpreted. The narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” on the other hand, is so keenly and constantly aware of the societal judgments that she’ll inherently face for sharing her experiences that, at one point, toward the end of the story, she creepily proclaims the following: “I have found out another funny thing, but I shan’t tell it this time! It does not do to trust people too much” (9). Up to this point in the story, the general implication has been that the author has been keeping this record for herself, not intending it to reach any audience in particular, so even though she’s speaking somewhat triumphantly about her experiences here, this instinct toward withholding information suggests a level of shame or anxiety about sharing her experiences that is not so clearly present in the Poe.

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