Specific Values

At the beginning of The Yellow Wallpaper, it is not actually clear whether or not the protagonist is insane. Like many symptoms (classified as illness) thought to be specific to women of the era, the symptom she is said to experience — “hysterical tendencies,” is something of a restatement of a perceived, undesirable quality. The yellow wallpaper serves as a catalyst for her descent, but the reader can’t be sure if her feelings toward it are a symptom of her mental state, or the cause of it.

What messages about mental illness and marriage does the story convey? Take a closer look at the language of illness of this era: how does the story engage with this rhetoric? What does the plot suggest about the way the writer has responded to the “rest cures” commonly prescribed by psychiatrists of the era? How does Gilman linguistically model the protagonist’s descent into madness? What does the protagonist know about her state, and what does she believe will help her? What messages does the text have for each of Gilman’s audiences?

Some advice for getting started:

As you think about the ways that a particular audience responds to a specific tale, there are a few things you could focus your attention on:

  • Specific emotions that readers experience at specific moments in the story (how is a word, an image, a plot twist intended to make us feel?)
  • Reader’s identification with a character or situation (how is the reader invited to imagine themselves in the story and to what purpose?)
  • Reader’s agreement/disagreement with specific values, principles, or other ideas (how is the reader invited to judge the characters and their actions?)

Your response should be at least 500 words (two double-spaced pages) long; discuss specific examples from your primary and secondary texts to support your main arguments. Upload your response here in a Word document.

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