Contributing Factors for the Degradation in Mental Illness from "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "Bartleby the Scrivenor"

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Melissa Mills
October 5, 2011
Intro to Lit. MW 3:00

Contributing Factors for the Degradation in Mental Illness of the Nameless Narrator and Bartleby
Until the late 1800’s when psychoanalysis was introduced, there was little to no distinction between classifications of mental illness. The female protagonist in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Bartleby of Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivenor” are both characters that seem to suffer from depression. Gilman’s narrator suffers from a ‘temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency’ that regresses into insanity and irrational behavior as Bartley is unmotivated, passive resistant and reticent. The regressing mental illnesses of the characters are contributed by the oppression from external forces of society in this particular time, the isolation, and the power of the enabling people in their lives. In this sense, they are more similar and of greater importance than in comparing the distinction in mental illness, which was impossible at the time the stories were written. Both “The Yellow Wallpaper” protagonist and Bartleby feel oppression from the society they live within, which more than likely had a contributing factor in their mental illness, although the oppression that Gilman’s protagonist experience is more about women’s domestic role in society as a mother, wife and homemaker, and Melville’s Bartleby felt the oppression of society when arrested and imprisoned as not conforming to the dominating ways of society. “The Yellow Wallpaper” protagonist is completely controlled by her husband/physician, John; mentally, physically and spiritually. Her husband talks down to her and is compelled to hide her anxiety and fears from him to appear happy in the face of her depression, she is confined to the thoughts in her head which burden her with strange delusions. Bartleby on the other hand, lives in a society that is also oppressive, where he can’t exercise...
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