Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper, Group 4

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 4

  1. Alexander Merrill

    I agree with many of the comments above and also have my own experience with staring at something. I would occasionally stare at the colorfully striped curtains across from my bed in my room at home, seeing the straight lines wave back and forth and the colors blending together to form patterns and figures. I think this experience of my own combined with the more accessible language and style used in The Yellow Wallpaper made reading the story a lot more of a personable experience than reading Poe’s stories. However, in spite of this more relatable voice, the descent into madness at the end of the story definitely reminded me of Poe’s stories, specifically Berenice. The less formal and more conversational voice in The Yellow Wallpaper is also helped by the description of the house and surroundings. The story is not nearly as dark and gothic as Poe’s stories, and this leads to a very different feel between the different authors.

    I see John as a controlling husband ignorant to the reality of mental illness and consequently pushes her down the path toward madness, not as an actual doctor. HIs ignorance to her illness invalidates his authority as a physician in my mind, and thus it does not color the situation as more “controlled” or not as crazy. However, the addition of John as a character does lead me to view the protagonist differently than those in Poe’s stories. In Poe’s stories, I see the monomaniacs as in control of their actions, at least on some level. On the other hand, I see the narrator in Gilman’s story as at the mercy of her husband. He is in control of what she does, who she sees, and just about everything else in her life. It seems her only escape is when he is gone and she can write in her journal. This makes the story seem more tragic to me. I don’t feel bad for Egaeus getting caught with Berenice’s teeth – he ripped them out, likely while she was still alive, and deserves whatever punishment comes to him. On the other hand, the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper is not in control of her life and her actions, which makes this story deeply depressing and disturbing in a much more “real” sense than Poe’s stories.

  2. Jacob Morton

    I agree with the above assessments that the Yellow Wallpaper felt more “accessible” than the prior Poe stories. I noticed that reaction in myself as I was reading it–early on in the tale, too. As I progressed through the pages, I found myself chalking up this accessibility to the voice of the character rather than, say, the content of the story. The breakdown she goes through–while obviously distinct in its own right–is in many ways comparable to those of Poe’s characters. The stories share the manifestation of monomania through seemingly trivial objects or attributes–whether it’s the design of wallpaper or Berenice’s ivory teeth. However the way each author structures and communicates those mental states differs. Poe adopts a somewhat clinical approach–sure, his writing is character-driven, no doubt, and possesses its share of eloquent stylistic choices–yet it still strikes me as very impersonal. Even the characters that are on the verge of losing it still detail their deliriums with acute formalism. On the other hand, when I read The Yellow Wallpaper, it truly feels like Stetson’s narrator is talking to me rather than at me. The sentences are shorter and blunter–they spend less time delighting in the musical rhythms and/or alliterations of Stetson’s word choice. “There comes John, and I must put this away,–he hates to have me write a word.” (p. 649) The present tense definitely contributes to the distinction. She isn’t recounting her descent, she’s carrying us along with her–occasionally imploring us for understanding when her husband clearly gives her none.

    Oddly, the husband being a medical practitioner didn’t make me trust his opinion too much. It felt like his function in the story was not to make the reader feel more comfortable because, don’t worry, this guy’s a doctor. Instead, I felt like he was there to illustrate the imperceptibility of mental illness. I imagine that, back then, the idea of something like monomania being an invisible disorder was way more radical, unfamiliar, and frightening to readers.

  3. Rachel Horowitz-Benoit

    One of the largest differences I saw between the stories was atmosphere. In Poe, the terror comes not only from the obsession but the Gothic settings. They take place in shadowy estates, or at least under the cover of darkness. There are elements of the abject and the grotesque, like the grave robbing and stolen teeth in Berenice. In comparison, The Yellow Wallpaper is brighter and cleaner. The attic bedroom is sunny and filled with light, and although the narrator never likes the yellow wallpaper, it only takes on malevolence through her increasing obsession with it. The inclusion of the doctors led to this reading as well. Poe narrators are often fringe characters who must hide their true thoughts, but the narrator’s disease in The Yellow Wallpaper is dissected and examined clinically.

    The other difference was a lack of direct violence in Gilman’s story. The confinement is not physically enforced but instead constructed through gaslighting and societal norms. Rather than death, the story is concerned with birth, and children. The narrator has recently had a baby, which helped lead to her anxiety. Her treatment is coddling and infantilizing to the extreme, to the point that she is glad her baby does not have to live with her in this room as they could not handle it. By the end, she is reduced to crawling. The horror comes not from the fear of death or the actions of the mad characters, but from the absolute mental disintegration of the protagonist.

  4. Mae Ryan

    I thought the woman’s husband/physician was an interesting addition to the story that differentiated it from the Poe stories we read. The narrators in the Poe stories do not discuss any outsiders trying to control their lives. They are, for the most part, left alone with their thoughts and their actions aren’t restricted in any way. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” on the other hand, the woman is completely at the mercy of her husband. He decides what activities she can do, who she can see, when she is getting better etc. She doesn’t have any agency around her husband. It is only when he leaves that she is free to write or obsess over the yellow wallpaper, which she thinks are both important to her recovery. Her lack of agency highlighted the intended purpose of the story, which was to change neurasthenia treatment so that it actually benefited the patient.

    I was also surprised by her husband/physician’s reaction to her madness. Although the woman did keep some of her thoughts and symptoms to herself, her husband still seemed to downplay the severity of her situation. At one point, he insisted that she was getting better and gaining weight. When she said that she had not gained any weight and then tried to suggest her mind was not better, he seemed to get defensive and said, “can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?” (652). I was surprised that, according to his medical opinion, she was getting better. I am currently taking a class on madness and we have been discussing how doctors would often deem people mad against their will and then make it impossible for them to prove sanity. The husband seems to do the opposite. I think that his refusal, as a doctor, to admit she is mad probably has to do with the fact that he is also her husband. He doesn’t want to believe his wife is mad.

  5. Henry Mooers

    I found the situation of this story to be much more realistic and relatable. To begin, there is for sure a topical aspect to the story as much of it centers around a woman spending a great deal of time in a single room. I think everyone taking part in this discussion can agree that a situation like that is incredibly pertinent to what we have all had to experience during the time of COVID. In this somewhat chance aspect, the story was much more accessible then was Berenice.

    Additionally, thinking back on my personal experience, the subject of the women’s monomania is one that I myself have had to a certain extent. The manner in which the women describes the mutations in the wallpaper makes me think back to when I was younger, and there was a ‘popcorn ceiling’ in my room. Were I to look up at it for too long, moving patterns would take shape in front of my eyes. At some times, patches of the ceiling would ‘flow’ as if they were a sort of river. During others, the popcorn ceiling assumed a sort of spiraling motion. This seems to be similar to the mutations in the story.

    Connecting my account with the unnamed women’s in the story, I would like to propose the idea that such hallucinations are caused by a factor causing one to sit in a room for a long period of time. For the protagonist, the main reason she is there is due to her husband, who thinks she may need some sort of treatment. Rather than listen to her anxieties, and attempt to work with her, he deems it best to isolate the couple in the upstairs nursery in a lone mansion, and strip the woman from all of her responsibilities; effecting leaving her with little to do. I would argue that this idleness contributes to her ruminations. For me, anytime I was looking at the popcorn ceiling for that long, it was usually because I was in some sort of trouble and wasn’t allowed to leave my room yet. With little to do, I let my mind wander.

    Despite the fact that the woman tragically loses her mind towards the end of the story, I still found the overall piece to be more relatable. I think the differentiating factor between Poe and Gilman is violence. I found the monomania of aegeus much more violent, dark, and unrelatable then that of Gilman’s character, who seems to be trapped in a confined space for the wrong reasons.

  6. Gordon Lewis

    Personally, I found myself eerily understanding of the narrator’s plight in The Yellow Wallpaper. In Poe’s stories with monomanic characters, it was easier for me to identify them as “mad”, since their mannerisms, speech patterns, and thoughts were so different from my own. But, with The Yellow Wallpaper the situation of the narrator was something I could relate to more personally.

    It reminded me of last fall when I waited alone in my bedroom for a few days before my test results came back. I spent a lot of time staring at the white, sloped ceiling and the plain walls of my room, and sometimes it felt like they were moving or swaying like the tides and it was very distressing and disorienting. So, when I read the narrator’s descriptions of the ever-changing patterns of the wallpaper, I was shocked at how much more relatable this character was than anything I’d read of Poe’s characters. When you’re stuck inside of a room for hours on end with little else to do, staring at the wall and imagining figures in the cracks and crevices happens so naturally, more so than, say, ripping out your cousin’s teeth or something like that.

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