the yellow wallpaper

the yellow wallpaper

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How Passivity and Submissiveness lead to madness by Charlette Perkins Gilman and Henrik Ibsen

“He told me all his opinions, so I had the same ones too; or if they were different I hid them, since he wouldn’t have cared for that” (Ibsen 109). As this quote suggests Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Henrik Ibsen, in A Doll House dramatize that, for woman, silent passivity and submissiveness can lead to madness.
     The narrator of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” is driven to madness after she withdraws into herself. “I am alone” (Gilman 44), she tells us. Desperately trying to express her feelings to John, she says “I told him that I really was not gaining here and that I wish he would take me away”(Gilman 46), but “I stopped short; for he sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern reproachful look that I could not say another word.” Instead the narrator “keeps quiet.” She settles into quiet submission: I “am much more quiet than I was. John is so pleased” (Gilman 48). She is “afraid” to “irritate” John or “to make him uncomfortable” (Gilman42). She makes herself believe that as a “physician” he knows what’s best for her and, therefore, acts passively, letting John control her even though she gets “unreasonably angry with” him (Gilman40).
Writing in her journal is the only thing that keeps her sane; yet John takes that away from her: “I must put this away-he hates to have me write” (Gilman 41). The narrator yearns to confess to John how she really feels, but she prefers to keep her feelings bottled up: “I think sometimes that if I were to write a little it would relieve the pressure of ideas and rest me” (Gilman 42). Instead, she is passive and hides her emotions. “I cry at nothing and cry most of the time. Of course I don’t when John is here, or anybody else,” only “when I am alone” (Gilman 44). She tells us that “John doesn’t know how much I really suffer” (Gilman 41). Even when the narrator tries to communicate with him, he immediately dismisses her: “I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him,” but “John wouldn’t hear of it” (Gilman 40). Instead of speaking her mind and standing up for herself, she withdraws and does “not say another word”(Gilman 47).
Convincing herself that John is always “right,” she obeys whatever “John says,” which only causes her condition to “worsen” despite the fact ...


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...y Torvald: “He used to call me his doll-child, and he played with me the way I played with my dolls…I went from Papa’s hands into yours. You arranged everything to your own taste, and so I got the same taste as you-or I pretended to… Now when I look back it seems I have lived here like a beggar-just from hand to mouth” (Ibsen 109). Rather than be “sheltered” (Ibsen 108) by him unlike Gilman’s character, Nora is able to speak up for herself and confront her past.
     Both Nora and the narrator of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” suffer from their silent passivity and submissiveness. Nora Helmer, who nearly “lost [her] mind” (Ibsen ), is able to save herself by being assertive and speaking out, confronting Torvald, her past, and her need to educate herself in the ways of the world. Unfortunately Gilman’s character keeps her feelings inside, and, as a result withdraws into herself and becomes insane. The narrator asserts her disjunction from reality as she tells John: “I’ve got out at last…in spite of you and Jane...and you can’t put me back” (Gilman 53), sloughing off the person she once was, “Jane” to become the “woman” in the paper.
     

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