Our literature teacher, Cecilia Lasa, asked us to work in pairs to create a statement in which we would base an essay about. This has to do with the short story we have been reading “The Yellow Wallpaper”
This is our statement: ” The writer of The Yellow Wallpaper is clearly denouncing english society in the 19th century through the transition of the protagonist”
As Salman Rushdie once said, “Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit, where I hope to find not absolute truth but the truth of the tale, of the imagination and of the heart.” The Yellow Wallpaper explores the english society in the 19th century in depth and denounces it.
For starters, it denounces positivism which is the state or quality of being positive; definiteness; assurance. This was to big importance for society in the 19th century since everything was tested and proven with science, yet nothing was left to the emotions or beliefs if abnormal. Although some might argue that it was a big advancement for society, it restricted knowledge and thinking outside of the box or of what it is known. This is showed in this short story. The narrator and protagonist is sick, depressed, and as she tries to express her concerns to her husband he says it is a “temporary nervous depression _ a slightly hysterical tendency.” She believes him because “he is a physician of high standing” so “what can one do?” The writer uses irony as if she had no right to think she could be right because what she feels she has can not be proven with what it is studied. In fact, John is the epitome of positivism. “John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.”There is a paradox since he tries to help her get better but by not accepting she is sick he makes it worst. What for men is madness for women is freedom. This short story as we know is of a gothic genre, which underlines and questions male and scientific authority.
That brings us to the next point which is the exposure of the role of women at that time. They were restricted in every sense: in what they said, thought and did. Emmeline Pankhurst a political activist at the time said: “Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it. They have decided that it is entirely right and proper for men to fight for their liberties and their rights, but that it is not right and proper for women to fight for theirs.”This is portrayed continuously throughout the transition of the protagonist. There is the fact that she is forbidden to write down what she thinks and feels even though it is the only thread of sanity she has for herself. “There comes John, and I must put this away – he hates to have me write a word.” This shows literally the power that men had over women and how they got to call the shots, and shows metaphorically how women couldn’t have a mind for themselves (or at least it wasn’t the norm). The writer emphasizes the roles in their relationship as husband and wife and the contrast between the dominant and the dominated. At first we could say that the wife is as most women in the british society in the 19th century, yet as she develops she separates herself from that persona. John is left ‘weak’ and ‘desperate’ while she takes control. Her actions are skeptical and maybe ‘mad’ at the end but one could also say she is free. The story’s ending is the following “Now why should that man have fainted? But he did”. Going back to the gothic roots, John represents the characteristic ‘woman in distress’ which is very ironic and controversial. This could be a hidden message questioning the supposed superiority of men.
To conclude, it is evident that the writer of this novel criticizes some aspects in the english society of the 19th century like positivism and the role of women. It is able to do so throught the transition of the protagonist, her sickness, irony, contrast of the relationship of the husband and wife and through literary resources.