File - English 1120

Friday, February 10
Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”
From the class blog:
The character of the story is put forth as very creative, as through her vivid
imagination of seeing people interwoven in random pattern designs as well as
her in-depth knowledge of historical art forms such as Romanque. The character
is also feeling an intense self-pity to which she is projecting onto her
hallucination of “the woman trapped and creeping inside the wallpaper.” The
female narrator later says that perhaps it is many women trapped in that
wallpaper, suggesting that the Victorian era, during which this story was written,
has restricted women in their freedoms to do what they want to do in life. This
concept of having women rest rather than work was thought of during the
Victorian era indeed to be in their best interest, as exemplified in the thought of
Victorian England's classic phrase that “women should not play Chess, as their
brain matter is more fragile and they in turn have a greater risk of fainting.”
Indeed, the story reveals a character of intense creativity.
— Michael
[The Narrator] feels trapped behind bars, much like the imaginary woman behind
the wallpaper. Her husband is not very helpful and in fact seems to care the least
about her, as when he tells her to get better “for my sake, the child’s sake and
your own sake.”. She feels the need to escape, but in her attempts she gets
caught and she is unable to move. In her description of the wallpaper she
mentions that “the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at
you upside down”. . . . At the end of the story, when she is crawling on the floor
rubbing her shoulder in the smooch on the wall, it makes me think about how
perhaps this place has been used for other women with a “nervous disorder”.
This brings together many of the points mentioned prior, such as how the bed is
nailed to the ground, how the room seemed to be treated violently, and how she
sees multiple other women stuck behind the wallpaper trying to break free from
the bars and the chains. This story is more than just a diary of a nervous woman:
it represents the struggle of all women desperately seeking autonomy during
this time period. The men are in control, guiding the women’s every choice and
move. Perhaps the front layer of the wallpaper represents the force of men,
never allowing the women behind to get past without killing them (or their
freedom). What other forms of symbolism do you see in this story? Do you agree
with some of the points I’ve made? Why/Why not?
— Sadie
The short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is densely
packed with powerful symbols and a palpable tone. A couple spends the summer
at an old mansion; he, a practising doctor in town, and she, there to convalesce.
The story follows the internal and external struggles of the doctor’s wife who
remains nameless for the duration of the story. There is a matter of fact tone to
the story that belies the intensity of the conflict the doctor’s wife endures over
the summer. She spends the duration of her time virtually imprisoned in an
upper floor former nursery and left mostly to her own thoughts. She struggles
the most with the wallpaper. Everything is symbolic of something else in the
story. The wallpaper seems to symbolize both her husband’s and, in general,
men’s belief that women should be treated, and are, like children. What are the
door, the rope, and the key under a plantain leaf at the end of the story
symbolic of? Why those specific symbols?
— Nick
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” was incredibly and
increasingly disturbing to read. At the onset the reader begins to understand the
social context of the era in which the main character is repressed under the guise
of being cared for by her husband and doctor. At that time, the treatment he
prescribes is the accepted method for dealing with the troubles she is having. But
when compared to the standards of today, one cannot help but be frustrated by
the methods used by the husband figure and it is not surprising in the end what
becomes of the main character considering her mental state and the situation in
which the “treatment” places her. The main character is left all day with nothing
to occupy herself but the increasingly fantastic imaginings of her mind in the
fragile state that it is. With nothing to occupy her mind, her imagination, which is
established as being very active even as a child, takes over as she begins to
obsess over the “yellow wallpaper” in her room. She spends hours of every day
for three months contemplating its patterns and colours and shadows. It is little
wonder that she ended up going crazy—many people would have ended up in a
similar state after suffering the same environment for that extended period of
time. In what way did the husband’s treatment ultimately result in his wife’s
end state? Would the main character have ended up in a similar state if it had
not been for her almost complete isolation and forced idleness?
— Emily
Vanderhaeghe’s “Cages”
The Puritan: Much of your fiction describes the Canadian prairie landscape with a
passionate, vivid attention to detail, leaving the reader with a powerful
impression of the fine line between savage inhospitality and soft, sensual beauty.
How much does the geography of the prairies influence your work? To what
degree does the very structure and form of your prose share a kinship or likeness
to the land?
Vanderhaeghe: The prairie landscape has had a great influence on my work
because I have spent my entire life experiencing it, and inhabiting it. It’s second
nature to me (no pun intended). Like any other writer, I write what I know. That
said, my representation of it is instinctive and largely unconscious. Familiar
images invest my mind and I struggle to render them in words. This, of course,
has an influence on the prose because the prose has to attempt a verbal
representation of the visual. But the prose has to be flexible—eliciting starkness
demands a spare prose, a more elaborate and ornate image summons up
something more baroque.
— from an interview (“Speaking Personally” 72-73) with Vanderhaeghe in The
Puritan (June, 2008)
Interviewer: One idea that comes out of that is the sense of a masculine identity that, speaking very generally, is vexed.
And that comes through in a lot of your short fiction — not just in Man Descending.
Vanderhaeghe: It’s very confused business. I was born in 1951. I was surrounded by uncles who had fought in the Second
World War. Some of them had been wounded. A lot of my uncles left home when they were fourteen years old to get jobs
during the depression. So I was raised by an incredibly stoical generation who accepted hardship and would never be
caught bitching and whining. I had that one template in my mind. And then in the 1960s, suddenly men were supposed to
become loving flower children, which was a huge clash in emotional and philosophical temperament. And though I
certainly didn’t immerse myself in that, I could see the value of it. I was never really a hippie, unlike other people who
went off in communes and did that kind of thing. So there was one set of beliefs that I was raised with that was challenged
by another set of beliefs through the 1960s and 1970s, and then there was a kind of regression to materialism in the
1980s, which also folded into the 1990s. For me, given my age, it’s almost like there were three decades of confusion. The
demands and assertions of feminism had to be negotiated, had to be accepted. actually, what I’m talking about here is
historical forces that impinge on individuals. Since the women’s movement, 95% of the change in men has been great. I’m
sure my father never changed a diaper in his life. I’m sure my father never gave me a bottle. I’m sure that my father did
none of those nurturing things. So the way I was raised was almost a preternaturally masculine way, which was not good.
But then I think that one of the things that men, particularly young men, encountered was “What does it mean to be a
male when these ‘old things’ are set aside?” You can go through a whole list of things. I remember, when I was very young,
women saying of men, “He’s a good provider.” Men stopped being good providers in the sense that women also became
good providers, just in the way that men contributed to housework, child nurturing — though maybe not as much as they
should have [laughter] — while women went to work. My generation was often described as particularly masculine, which
meant physical prowess (sometimes regrettably associated with violence) and tended to be thought of as atavistic in some
sense. So there were a whole series of things considered to be male identity markers that suddenly disappeared. Then the
question that arrived was “What is left to define a male over and against what defines a female?” The women had, I think,
arrived at a very strong definition of themselves. The men weren’t sure what it meant to be male. Now, I grant that’s a
huge, sweeping generalization. But it came to be a question of “What are masculine
virtues that are valuable virtues?” and that’s very problematic” (264-265)
— from “Guy Talk”: An Interview with Guy
(SCL/ÉLC interview by Nicola a. Faiet)