Thursday, March 8, 2007

Without Special Direction

Journal No. 10
English 48B
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

From "The Yellow Wall-Paper"

I. "He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction."

II. Charlotte Perkins Gilman is describing a woman's thoughts about her husband and how "kind" he is to take such care of his wife while she is in need of resting her mind and body.

III. Gilman's main character, a nameless woman, has been feeling as though she is not very healthy mentally. Because of this, her husband John has decided to rent out a house that has "stood so long untended" for her mental and physical recovery. John seems to believe that the his wife is imagining her illness, though she knows that she is not happy at all. She brushes this off as though John would know better than herself as to what is really wrong with her. She seems to be suffering from depression. Or could it be suppression? While her husband John is certainly thoughtful superficially, he seems to think that this is something that women can choose to do on a whim. He seems to her to be very thoughtful, but he is treating her more like a child, and a burdensome child at that! While he has rented a home with a peaceful garden and terrace, he confines her to a room at the top of the stairs where he can lock her in all day if he chooses (i.e. if he needs to). The woman expresses interest in residing in a downstairs bedroom that has views of the garden and the terrace which is covered in beautiful blooms. She feels that this will help her to feel more alive and to remember what beauty really looks like. John disagrees, giving her the excuse that she really just needs to rest her mind and not think about a thing. He is forbiding her to have any beauty in her life, to find any joy in the simple things that she could surround herself with. John has fronted his true intentions with words of affection and mild concilation, but she is barely aware that these words are simply superficial. She has become quite a burden on John and his need to live his life fully in spite of her "whims." Despite his allegedly thougtful care and consideration of her well-being, the woman is indeed becoming more and more mentally unstable as she passes the time with only the ugly yellow wallpaper to keep her company.

Unfortunately, John is not unlike many men of his time. Fathers, husbands, brothers, physicians, and other men who had women in their lives were influential in their beliefs that women could just as easily end an "illness" as they were able to begin it. They believed that women had created these silly circumstances all on their own due to their desire to go off on vacation somewhere. They believed that women simply wanted an excuse to stop caring for the children, to stop taking care of their household and wifely duties. Therefore, the women obviously just needed to completely stop thinking for themselves- as though they were actually "permitted" to do so in the first place. The men of the time attributed these behaviors to "hysteria," which was a term that described many different "mental" inconveniences. Simply put, the women were often depressed, or as I stated above, suppressed. They were, in my mind, so stifled in what they could say or do that they ended up having anxiety attacks or went into depressions. Defining themselves by the way that they raised the children or by the dinners that they served was something that was making them feel ill. I believe that often times women were in need of social stimulation and a sense of a purpose of their own. They were not encouraged to go out and find things that would make them feel challenged or creative. They were often treated as though they were simply a window-dressing, expected to sit still and smile: Only nod or speak when addressed. And never, ever express a unique opinion of your own. Certainly not without asking your husband about it first.


Scott said...

20 points. John is not unlike some husbands these days either (fortunately not including Aaron :)