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The danger of a single story - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Overview Seminar paper from the year in the subject English Language and Literature Studies - Literature, grade: 1,0, University of Freiburg Englisches Seminar , course: American Women Writers, 15 entries in the bibliography, language: English, abstract: 'The Yellow Wallpaper' is an exceptional piece of art by an author who, living at a time that put a heavy weight of social conventions and expectations on women, was trying to undermine these restrictions through sharp analysis of the man-made society surrounding and tying women. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote a number of short stories, novels and poems all dealing with the situation of women as wives, mothers, workers, artists and individuals.

The Yellow Wallpaper

But although the subjects of all her works are critical and particularly provoking for the time, not flattering Gilman with a lot of fame, 'The Yellow Wallpaper' is both in style and draft distinctive, more subtle and effective, and it unites her various points of social criticism to a strong attack on a system that ruins female sanity and suppresses female creativity. By the time of its first publication in it was read as a horror tale, since it contains elements typical for stories in the tradition of Poe, and because of its terrifying impact on the reader.

To me a complete misunderstanding of the textual depth and message. But nevertheless the famous sentence in the letter of Horace E. Scudder, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, rejecting the publication in his magazine, shows that there must have been a presentiment of the accusing content and real power of the story. Hedges from a feminist angle in during the rise of feminist literary criticism. With Hedges interpretation the story got the attention it deserved and was, for the first time, acknowledged for what it is.

In addition to that she connected the author's life and the narrator's story.


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It is also a realistic representation of human beings' desire to overcome feelings of uselessness. The story illustrates the need for a woman to be independent. The story examines one woman's descent into madness due to inactivity. In a much broader sense, however, the story also examines the struggles between marriage and career, social expectations and personal goals. In reading about Gilman's own life, the story also clearly reflects her own feelings of being trapped in a marriage.

While the narrator has lost much of her independence and self-determination, the determination that does remain for her is in her desire to tear down the wallpaper and set the mysterious woman free. In her own life, Gilman similarly tried to free herself and other women. At least obsessing about the wallpaper has given her something to occupy her mind. Without a doubt, the narrator is a character with real emotions and real mental deterioration.

The Role of Voice in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (1890)

It is important to remember, and to remind students, that the entire story is presented only through the narrator's perspective. At the same time, most of the background material provided is from Gilman's autobiography, and from her own perspective. While Gilman's story can be called realism, because of its connection to her own life, it is real only to Gilman, the author. Realism is defined as, ".


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  8. Gilman's narrator represents a battling woman. In the story, she is battling the wallpaper and its mystery; in its historical context, she is battling patriarchal social codes. For these reasons, the story carries with it a controversial edge. In small groups of three or four, students will discuss the examples listed during the during-reading activity and attempt to make a diagnosis of the narrator's illness. Students should also suggest other possible treatments for the narrator.

    After reading and discussing the story in class, student can use the internet to research psychological disorders to assist in this activity. Several useful web sites are listed on Attachment two, Web site Resource Page. In the final ten to twenty minutes of class, groups should present their findings orally for the class. When the story first came out, in the New England Magazine about , a Boston physician made protest in The Transcript.

    Such a story ought not to be written, he said; it was enough to drive anyone mad to read it. During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country.

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    This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, to which a still-good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to "live as domestic life as far as possible," to "have but two hours' intellectual life a day," and "never to touch pen, or pencil again" as long as I lived.

    This was in I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over. Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote, "The Yellow Wallpaper," with its embellishments and additions, to carry out the ideal I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad.

    He never acknowledged it. The little book is valued by alienists and as a good specimen of one kind of literature. But the best result is this. Many years later I was told that the great specialist had admitted to friends of his that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading "The Yellow Wallpaper. This assignment gives students the opportunity to understand the author's purpose for writing the story in addition to providing students evidence of Gilman's efforts to educate other women during her time.

    The students will be assessed for completing a personal response to the author's purpose. One 90 minute class period or two 45 minute classes will be needed for this assignment. This works best as an "initial response," therefore, editing and revising are not included as a part of the assignment. Students will be asked to brainstorm how they view a woman's struggle with the demands and expectations of marriage and a woman's work and independence today. Students might be asked to interview a teacher, family friend, parent or extended family member to complete this assignment.

    Students will be assessed for following essay form and for making at least three connections between the struggles of nineteenth century women and present day issues.

    Gothic and the Female Voice: Examining Charlotte Perkins Gilman's

    The task assessment provided in attachment three can be modified to fit this assignment. This lesson should be expanded to include proofreading and editing workshops in class. A final, formal draft should result after several days of writing instruction. Gothic Genre: Defining Gothic The gothic novel dominated English literature during the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. Often, architectural ruins, monasteries, forlorn characters, elements of the supernatural and overall feelings of melancholy and madness prevailed in gothic works.

    It seems likely that the gothic novel was a reaction to the increased disillusionment in Enlightenment thinking The gothic genre's bizarre images and obsessions with death, evil and mystery reflect a reaction to the age of reason, order and politics of nineteenth century England as well. A story of terror and suspense, gothic has also been defined as, ". It states, ". Most students become fascinated with examinations of horror, the supernatural, psychology and the mind.

    Gothic works naturally generate psychological responses from readers, therefore motivating students to search for deeper meanings and a variety of analysis. Gothic Genre: The Female Gothic Ellen Moers is known for establishing the term "female gothic" as an element of literary analysis. According to Moers, female gothic refers to writings where ". Some critics even chose to compare Gilman's story to the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, because of its remarkable depiction of the deterioration of the human mind.

    In addition, Gilman's narrator's madness is focused on the wallpaper, serving a similar function to Poe's famous black cat or tell-tale heart. Almost years before Gilman's story was published, Ann Radcliffe established a standard for a gothic novel written by a woman writer. Radcliffe's novel's central figure is a young woman who was a persecuted victim and courageous heroine. Applying this definition to "The Yellow Wallpaper," it is clear to see why the story has been called gothic. Further complicating the analysis of Gilman's story as a gothic tale is Moers' discussion of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

    A novel about creation, birth and its traumatic aftermath, Shelley established fear, guilt, depression, and anxiety as commonplace reactions to birth. In real life, Gilman's own nervous condition followed the birth of her daughter, Katherine, and paralleled the narrator's madness which revolves around the yellow wallpaper of an old nursery. Unlike many some gothic tales, Gilman's story is not simply about a haunted environment or an estranged woman. The story connects both setting and character with a chilling effect.

    Lesson III: Realism vs. Gothic Horror In groups of three or four, ask students to brainstorm what happens when we try to apply a real diagnosis to a work of fiction. While Gilman's story is based on real events, it is still a short story.


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    4. Groups should then prepare at least three statements to make that prove "The Yellow Wallpaper" is an example of realism. Then, they should prepare at least three statements to prove that "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a gothic horror story. This assignment can be presented orally or written. Allot one 45 minute class or half of a 90 minute class period. Each student will be asked to make one solid point to defend the group's argument.

      The debates may or may not be settled, but will provide students with a forum for drawing some conclusions about the story. Students will be assessed for taking an active part in the debate. Debate topics are "How Responsible is John? It goes mad. When Gilman's narrator give in to her madness, her obsession over the wallpaper becomes the only part of her life that she can control.

      The film Gaslight, is a great companion to "The Yellow Wallpaper" in relation to the theme of madness. Its heroine is on the verge of a complete mental breakdown when she realizes that her dashing husband has been trying to drive her insane in order to locate her family jewels, which are hidden in their London home. While most students dread watching old, black and white films, this film is so full of suspense and mystery it is highly recommended. The following speech is in given by the heroine, Paula, in the final moments of the film.

      Or is it I who am mad? Yes, of course, that's it. I am mad. I'm always losing things and forgetting them, and I must find them. If I were not mad I could have helped you. Whatever you have done, I could have pitied and protected you. Because I am mad I hate you. Because I am mad, I have betrayed you. Because I am mad I am rejoicing in my heart, without a shred of pity, without a shred of regret, watching you go with glory in my heart. Ask them to work in pairs to write such a speech for Gilman's narrator. This not only reflects her powerlessness, oppression and diminishing sense of identity and self-esteem but also denies her signification in Structuralist terms: without an agreed sign, or name, she is nothing; without signification she cannot be signified; therefore, by extension, she cannot signify or be significant in society.

      It is as if she is escaping from herself and the name — or, in Structuralist terms, the sign [8] - that signifies her as well as escaping from her oppressers. In so doing, she emerges as more than just one individual; more than just one woman seeking a voice in a world dominated by men, and more than just one voice calling for recognition and compassion. She is using her voice more confidently in her new found freedom than she has at previous points in the text.

      It serves as a diagnostic construct, a disciplinary construct and a syntactic composition. As Judith Fetterley asserts, in a sexist culture the interests of men and women are antithetical, and, thus, the stories each has to tell are not simply alternative versions of reality, they are, rather, radically incompatible. Fetterley, , p. John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience or faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures. You see he does not believe I am sick! Such inconsistencies between male and female language are a recurrent phenomenon in literature, philosophy and, indeed, everyday life.

      She may understand his. Hers he will never speak nor understand. In pity, of from other motives, she must therefore, stammeringly, speak his. He listens and is flattered and thinks he has her mental measure when he has not touched upon the fringe of her consciousness. In conversation with his wife, John is evidently following the advice of Dr Robert B.

      There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so? She can, and does at first, trust him, against her better judgement, and yet, unable to express herself openly in the face of his oppression, she begins to ponder for herself all the questions she is forbidden to ask him. Ostensibly she is considering here the effects of the different patterns on the wallpaper, but she is in truth, of course, conflating them with the social paradigms of men and women as the voices within her begin to confer and to re-signify, in Structuralist terms, patterns for genders.

      This complexity of signs, signifiers and signified is extended as the story expands to encompass not just the voice of one woman against patriarchal oppression, but the voices of all women affected by the symptoms of neurasthenia, hysteria and puerperal mania described in the text [12]. It is these women that Gilman is reaching out to as a more resounding, composite voice is gradually revealed in her text. It is also a warning to men, and particularly to physicians. In this article, she states that:. Many years later I was told that the great specialist [Silas Weir Mitchell] [13] had admitted to friends of his that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading The Yellow Wallpaper.

      It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked. Gilman 3, , p. The voices of these relatives are not heard, directly or indirectly, but their actions, perhaps, speak louder than their words could as they abandon the narrator to her fate. Powers goes on to profess that, as Dale M. The conspicuously female voices of such Conduct Literature and Motherhood Manuals Powers, , therefore, reinforced and reiterated the teachings of the governing patriarchs, furthering their cause in manipulating and controlling the lives of women, who thus became complicit in their own compliance and subjugation by their ingestion of these imprudent and persuasive tracts.

      A clue to this counterintuitive endorsement of the patriarchal hierarchy on the part of women can be found in the words of Horace E. His rejection, therefore, was based not on a lack of literary worth in the text, which he evidently found profoundly moving, but on his opinion that it would be too disturbing for his readers and could upset the status quo in society.

      The wisest ask few questions. The internal and external voices of The Yellow Wallpaper serve to demonstrate the chasm that exists between, on the one hand, science, logic and reason, and on the other hand, creativity, compassion and emotion. They bring into question the justice of valuing the former male qualities over the latter female qualities and lead readers towards a more balanced appreciation of all six attributes. Attridge, D. Obituary: Jacques Derrida. Guardian Weekly , 15 October, p. Barker, F. In: D. Bauer, ed. The Yellow Wallpaper. Bedford Cultural Edition ed. Barthes, R.

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      Myth as Semiological System translation of extract from Mythologies [provided in seminar]. Paris: Seuil. Bauer, D. Conduct Literature and Motherhood Manuals. Beecher, C. A Treatise on Domestic Economy Bible Hub, Bible Hub online bible study suite. Carey, J. London: Faber and Faber Ltd..