In “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte focuses on how women try to unravel their mind from the social conventions that they must live with day by day. Gilman and Bronte analyze how women is forcefully living in a haunted atmosphere and tries to slowly move away by their own means of understanding in order to live the real world. Therefore, women are trapped because they are trying to escape the insanity situation. Gilman and Bronte also describe how the protagonist characters are madwomen because both struggle towards their selfhood and freedom. The narrator and Jane Eyre realize their self-worth and that they are valuable individuals who must search for freedom. They will only learn who they are as a person by failing and then reconsidering their life in order to become successful women. Gilman and Bronte both creates a traditional image of a madwomen by three ways: The subordination of women, the image of self-expression and the description of the gothic environment. The three ways are all indicators of how they live in a haunted situation because of psychological, emotional and physical well-being who are longing for freedom and independence.
First, in “The Yellow Wallpaper” Gilman uses the convention of the psychological horror to analyze the position of women within the institution of marriage; therefore, the only place she can retain some control and exercise the power of her mind. The story focuses on the mental deterioration of the narrator due to the medically prescribed treatment of being allowed to do nothing. Gilman created a very effective fictional narrative based on her personal experience with depression. The story focuses on the unequal marriage relationship where the narrator feels she is not given space to make decisions independently as men. For example, John belittles his wife’s creative work because he does not respect his wife, so he treats her like one of his children by calling her a little girl. Her husband is meeting her basic needs; similarly, how one would care for a child. She goes crazy and becomes a madwoman because she is placed in a prison of being able to do nothing. For example, “I sometimes fancy that in my condition, if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus – but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad.” (Gilman 1892). The narration interrupts her thoughts deeply and changes transition to listen to Johns thought of his instructions. She stops thinking about her situation and thinks only about her marriage that results at the beginning of her madness. She has no where to exercise her personal freedom because he keeps ignoring his wife’s thoughts and opinions. John believes that she should depend on him for everything even though she needs the space to exercise her creativity. The strong voice of her husband urges her to be passive, personally she disagrees with her treatment because she has no power to change her situation. For example, “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency – which is one to do? (Gilman 1392). The narrator is focusing on the agitated state of her mind, if she is not allowed to participate in any social conventions, she begins to feel trapped and becomes madly insane.
Also, Charlotte Bronte uses the convention of the psychological horror to analyze the position of women through the ups and downs of her journeys that Jane undergo in order to remain true to herself. For each of the residences she visits, Jane goes through a set of trails and temptations she must overcome in her own terms. For instance, the experiences she suffers such as being isolated by her unwelcoming family and that she has no significance or importance to them. As well as, her next place at Lowood also had negative associations on her and the atmosphere felt like a prison because of the way it is shaped. When Jane arrives at night, she arrives in “rain, wind and darkness” (Bronte 662). These are indicators that makes Jane go mad and mentally crazy. She is unable to stop her vision from seeing the horrible nightmare she sees everyday. Everybody treats her as a poor orphan child who she has no one to love and comfort her. Since she cannot control her anger and frustration, she starts feeling weak and fragile and feels like she has become ill. Bronte states, “If others don’t love me, I would rather die than live” (682). Most of the residences she visits are described as gothic mansions because of its darkness and of the haunted people she interacts with. However, she did not wake up yet to think about herself. Instead, she faces the horror situation by force and swallows those hurtful moments in order to move on for the better moments.
Second, “In the Yellow Wallpaper” the narrator is constantly longing for an emotional and intellectual outlet because she is forced to hide her feelings; therefore, she keeps a secret journal that becomes a relief of her mind. She is unable to do anything until John thinks she is well again. Therefore, the journal for her is a symbol of purification, comfort, and ease when she wants to talk to someone and let out her feelings. Gilman states, “There comes John, and I must put this away – he hates to have me write a word” (1393). The struggle between the narrator and her husband, over the nature and treatment of her illness leads to a conflict within the narrator’s mind between her growing understanding of her own powerlessness and her desire to repress this awareness. He locks her mind-set in place because he does not want her to think about her treatment, even though she suffers a lot and if that satisfies him, there is no need to suffer. Therefore, this secret journal is a relief to her mind because her true thoughts are hidden from the outer world. She fantasizes her imagination by writing in a diary to make her comfortable. Gilman quotes, “I haven’t felt like writing before, since that first day” (1394). The first day in a nursery room began her meltdown, no body is on her side so the journal will let her move on in life. The journal is a means of communication to her where she can communicate her distressed life and feelings that she encounters with her husband. Since she is forbidden to work in the outer world, writing in the journal is considered a full-time job for her but with her own cubicle world.
Not only does the narrator looks for healings, Jane Eyre also has another form of healing. Jane Eyre is looking to grow and express her self through a search for freedom which is to become a part of a home or community. Jane Eyre is an orphan girl who has nobody to love. Therefore, her quest is in search for romantic love to feel valued in the eyes of others. Even Jane says to Helen Burns: “To gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other whom I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken” (Ch 8). She is a desperate madwoman, she has been living her childhood years desperately looking for some love. What she encounters is just negative comments, actions, and behaviors put on her. She has become insane and the only way to calm herself and gain a relief of mind is searching for people who do love her for the way she is as a person. During her childhood years, she describes a childhood memory such as, “To this crib I always took my doll…I was comparatively happy, believing It happy likewise” (Bronte 652). She is revealing how she had never had a sense of love or home as a child. Being independent for Jane felt that she was always scared because her life is haunting her. When she is alone, she fantasizes her imagination deeply making her insane. Jane is slowly growing, and she is beginning to flourish her true self in front of others when she is starting to feel welcomed and wanted from others.
Last, the “Yellow Wallpaper” is a significant symbol of a gothic environment that the narrator lives with and that she continually observes until she figures out how it is organized in order to set free and become independent. The narrator is driven deeply by the gothic wallpaper with big, black, bars that seems like a pattern she must crack in order to win the game. Gilman points out, “There are things in that wallpaper that nobody knows about but me, or ever will” (1397). The narrator senses that the wallpaper is a text that she must interpret and it symbolizes something that belongs to her. After starring at the paper for hours, she sees a ghostly sub-pattern behind the main pattern. The sub-pattern is a desperate woman who is constantly crawling who is trying to escape the main pattern which is also the imprisoned situation the narrator lives in. The narrator sees other women trapped, similarly like herself, who are trying to escape as well. The wallpaper is a symbol of domestic and marriage life that she is forced to live; and therefore, Gilman uses the wallpaper as a gothic and black paper that traps so many women. Gilman sets the narrator free by, “I’ve got out at last…and I’ve pulled off most o the paper, so you can’t put me back” (1403). The narrator has survived and is finally set free. She realizes she was put in front of a hideous wallpaper in order to reveal her true self. She recognized her self that she is an important woman who is an important part of the social world. Now, she is independent, and she has grown her self-worth, her self-autonomy and is ready to empower her life skills the way she pleases.
Also, the red room in Jane Eyre is a significant description of a gothic- like atmosphere. The red-room is a symbol of what Jane must overcome her struggle to find happiness. First, the room is a prison for Jane because her Aunt puts her in the room when she is misbehaving and then immediately; she punishes her by locking her in the room. For instance, “Take her away to the red-room, and lock her in there” (Bronte 640). The room is dark, silent, and cold because nobody ever enters the room, it is just there because it is a spare chamber. Moreover, the room is more gothic because it reminds her of the deceased person, Mr. Reed. During her stay, she started “feeling as if I had had a frightful nightmare, and seeing before me a terrible red glare, crossed with thick black bars” (Bronte 645). She dreams about frightening nightmares and everything she visions is dark and dim. The nightmares are a good sign to wake her up in life and start to posses her real life and her freedom of self-expression. Even tough she is finally freed, she is constantly threatened and humiliated. The red room continues to be a symbol because she remembers her very first punishment in the red room and the current situation that is also threatening for her. But at the same time, she is learning about herself each day and her self-worth and autonomy level is growing for the better because she is now taking care of herself.
Typically, men construct images of women to fulfill their own needs and not worry about women needs. Since women are not of equal importance to them, they begin to see life haunting to them because they are denied being part of the outer reality. The women are speechless and nervous in their threatening situations and so they continue to think about horror and dark imaginations because that is the only way for escape. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Jane Eyre” both women have seen the ghostly images through psychological, emotional and physical horror. Then, they attempted to reconstruct themselves psychologically, emotionally and physically. Women were literally in prison and now they are trying to escape and look after their desires, needs and self-expression. As well, the traditional image is revised as a modern tradition for women.
- Bronte, Charlotte. “Jane Eyre” The Norton Anthology Of Literature By Women, edited by
- Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, 2007, pp. 636-958.
- Gilman, Perkins Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper” The Norton Anthology Of Literature By
- Women, edited by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, 2007, pp. 1392-1403.