A contemporary Boston physician responded starkly to The Yellow Wallpaper. Such a story ought not to be written, he said. It was enough to drive anyone mad to read it.
What is it about the descent into madness that is so disturbing to read? Accounts of people behaving oddly are common enough that cannot be the resonant element that so profoundly disturbs the reader as we watch the protagonist drift away from the shores of sanity. It seems rather to be the element of alienation itself that we respond to at a visceral, unthinking level. It is a feeling almost everyone has experienced at some time or another, thus easy to identify with, even if only in a mild form: a sense of not belonging, of being separate and distant from the people and things around us. This theme is all the more powerful, then, when used to underscore a character's emotional journey into a place of utter estrangement. We understand intuitively how one can feel withdrawn or disconnected; it is not a great leap from there to disassociated and isolated from all that gives life meaning.
[...] Even more so than The Awakening - which leaves us with a sense of finality Wallpaper uses the themes of alienation in a short, powerful exercise that succeeds in being incredibly thought provoking. As Deborah Thomas points out, these women lived and wrote in era when men assigned and defined women's roles, creating, as she calls it, ideological prison that subjected and silenced women.” Choices and methods for breaking out of this prison of social expectation were few, and those who challenged its boundaries in the 19th century were more readily pathologized as “hysterical” women than understood in any other light. [...]
[...] Alienation from Others At the time of these writings the Cult of True Womanhood, described by Deborah Thomas in her analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper, was in full force, determining roles and mores for women. Cult of True Womanhood binds women to the home and family Women were cast as emotional servants whose lives were dedicated to the welfare of home and family in the perservence [sic] of social stability This set of social expectations framed and defined one's external life; it was a rule set internalized by the individual and came to define the self. [...]
[...] At one level, one escapes from oppressive or unpleasant externals by delving within, by becoming an island unto oneself a common reflex (short-lived though it may John Donne notwithstanding. In these two works, the protagonists are complicit in their own alienation and self-isolation; they are inward- looking and dwell upon this or that which distances and creates separation wallpaper, children, a lost lover until this too paves the path further into the forest of disassociation. The final step is separation from self. [...]
[...] Maternal discourse and the romance of self- possession in Kate Chopin's The Awakening. Boundary vol 17, no New Americanists: revisionist interventions into the canon, pg 158- 186. Thomas, Deborah. The changing role of womanhood: from true woman to new woman in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Yellow Wallpaper.” Viewed Dec at http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/gilman.htm. Quoted in Gilman's essay, Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper. Ivy Schweitzer, Maternal discourse and the romance of self- possession in Kate Chopin's The Awakening. Deborah Thomas, The Changing Role of Womanhood. [...]
[...] And she is all the time trying to climb through It may be Edna Pontellier sitting through a midnight vigil and coming to a quiet center, letting everything go, like petals on a stream flowing away from her: “There was no one thing in the world that she desired she even realized that the day would come when [Robert], too, and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone.” Escape from Coercion In the themes of alienation, the disconnected self is evoked as an escape from coercion of some sort: coercion from external factors (husband, family, societal expectations); or coercion from self, from internalized requirements (such as those of the Cult of True Womanhood) that the true self can no longer accept or accommodate. [...]
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