A Comparison of Imprisonment in Yellow Wallpaper, Jane Eyre and Slave Girl

A Comparison of Imprisonment in Yellow Wallpaper, Jane Eyre and Slave Girl

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Imprisonment in Yellow Wallpaper, Jane Eyre and Slave Girl


   When I think of prisons, the first thing that comes into my mind is of course locking someone up against their will or as a punishment, because someone else has decided that this is for the best or simply wants to get someone out of the way. Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre is locked up in the attic and the woman in The Yellow Wall-paper is confined to a summer home by her husband. For both these women, the locking up serves as yet another prison: they are both already prisoners in their own bodies by their mental states. In The Yellow Wall-paper, the main character is placed in a summer home to recover from a nervous condition. Her husband John, a doctor, believes that in order to get well, she has to take a rest cure and refrain from all kinds of physical or mental exertion, and he therefore more or less locks her up in one of the larger rooms of the house where she has nothing to do but stare at the wallpaper and keep a diary. She believes to see a woman trapped behind the wallpaper and strips it off in order to set her free - this I see as how she sees herself in her confinement. Her psychological state as well as the confinement to the room, along with the gender roles and expectations of that time, all work together to make her a prisoner kept making her own decisions. The husband is the provider, the one who knows best and the one who makes the decisions and she has no way of voicing her own. She finally "escapes" her controlling husband and the room by finally descending into insanity. "'I've got out at last', said I, 'in spite of you and Jane! And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!'" (Gilman, p1669).

Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre has, to use a slightly old-fashioned term, gone mad to such an extent that she is dangerous to both herself and to others. To get her out of the way, Mr Rochester has her locked up and he pretends that she has never existed at all. By treating her like an animal (putting her in a large cage), he creates a real (physical) prison with its locks and bars, and I believe that only makes matters worse, since there certainly was no way that she would ever recover up there.

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When she sets fire to the house and kills herself by jumping from the roof, she finally escapes her confinement.

 

Being the owner of your own body and deciding for yourself what to do with it is something we take for granted today, but slavery was a prison for thousands and thousands of slaves in America until the late nineteenth century. Linda Brent in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is trapped in this kind of life and has thus no freedom. Slavery, which was abolished in America in 1865, deprived thousands of black Americans of their freedom. The slaves had no right to their own bodies, no right to marry or have children, and were often sexually abused by their masters. Linda knows that she is but a slave who has to keep her master happy to stay alive, but will not be content with that and manages to escape from her brutish master. Even if a slave managed to flee from the south into one of the northern states where slavery was not accepted, the risk of being found was great, since there was a law that entitled slave-owners to take their property back if they found it (intentional use of the words 'property' and 'it'). Linda Brent has to go through this after her escape, but finally breaks free from her prison after being bought by a woman who has become her friend.

 

Bad mental health serves as a prison for many of the people affected, but to make matters worse, people with a mental health problem are sometimes locked up to keep them from harming themselves or others. Which of the imprisonments is the worst kind? I believe that being locked up and unable to decide where to go or what to do must be terrible, but all the same a mind that is not working the way you want it to must be equally terrible. For these nineteenth century women, the physical imprisonment must have been easier to break free from than the psychological and gender role ones.

 

Works Cited

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Penguin, 1994

Fromkin, Victoria & Rodman, Robert. An Introduction to Language, 6th edition. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace, 1998

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wall-paper". The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Shorter Fifth Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York, N.Y.: Norton & Company, 199x. 1657-1669

Jacobs, Harriet. "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl ". The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Shorter Fifth Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York, N.Y.: Norton & Company, 1999. 828-849

Mercer, Trudy. An Inquiry into the Text Transmission of Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, 1998-2001.

http://www.drizzle.com/~tmercer/Jacobs/history.shtml (online)

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