The Yellow Wallpaper

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The Unique Ambiguity of the Theorized Wall-paper

February 07, 2011

There are several theories about realism and fantasy. In which several of them will be discussed in this essay in relation to the short story of Charlotte Perkins Gilman “The Yellow Wall-paper”. This story represent the genre that is on the line between fantasy and realism, since it fits to both genres criteria written by Rosemary Jackson, Ian Watt and Tzvetan Todorov. Also, it can't be decided (until the very end perhaps) to which genre it belongs to, by most readers, and in particularly by the “ideal reader”. In “Fantasy: the Literature as Subversion” (second chapter) Jackson opens with the original meaning of the word fantasy, which came from Greek, that makes every kind of literature fantastic because it generally means an activity of the imagination. Fantasy is a protean form since it includes every kind of narratives that represent a supernatural world, which makes it difficult to define. Fantasy is about braking the rules of the natural world that we know. This activity happens in “The Yellow Wall-paper” when the narrator, the main character says where the sun is just so -- I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design. this is her first description of the imprisoned woman inside the wall-paper, and by other, more specific and vivid descriptions she basically describes a supernatural world, since according to her she is being haunted by this woman. By doing so, this story obeys to the idea that: “ a fantasy is a story based on and controlled by an overt violation of what is generally accepted as possibility” (Irwin, p.x “Fantasy: the Literature as Subversion” 2nd chapter page 14) However, the reader may assume that she is insane and she has overdeveloped imagination, bu still, it's ambiguous because this woman seems reasonable when she says It is an airy and comfortable room as any one need wish, and, of course, I would not be so silly as to make him uncomfortable just for a whim. 1

this is why this story can be consider as fantasy as well as realistic. Though she is extremely submissive, this is how women were in those days. Another idea that Jackson talks about in relation to the main criteria of fantasy literature, which is braking the rules, is the “carnival” manifestation. The carnival is a main root of the fantastic since it's one of the the first expressions of human nature to take a break from the law and order of the everyday life “Carnival was a temporary condition, a ritualized suspension of everyday law and order […] 'all the things that were closed off, isolated and separated in carnivalistic contacts and combinations' ” (page16). The law and order are represented by the narrator's husband which is a physician that believe he knows what is best for his unwell wife. He is treating her like she's a child by telling her where to sleep, what to think and what to do or not do. Because she is so controlled by him and so obedient, she starts to see the imprisoned woman in the wall-paper, the same wall-paper that she wanted to get rid of from the first time she saw it, but her husband decided that it's just a whim and made her feel silly about it. Another “law” that her husband decided for her is that she shouldn't write because he thinks it makes her sick, it's too much for her. But she do it anyway and this is where the carnival feature comes in, by braking his rules the narrative brakes the rules of the natural world. She doesn't speak with anyone about what she sees in the yellow wall-paper she only writes about it. She sees an imprisoned woman tries to get out from her cage only at night, at daytime she disappears. Then she talks about a weird smell that the wallpaper is spreading around the house, another supernatural ability of the wallpaper. In the end she find out that the woman escapes from the wall-paper at daytime and this is why she's not...
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