Presentation: Male Control vs. Female Sanity

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Article: Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar from Keesey's Context for Criticism

Date: 19 March 2009

Details:

A lot of poetry and literature have stressed the concept of male authority and its effects upon women. Gilbert and Gubar stated that "houses were primary symbols of female imprisonment" (Keesey 260) which shows that women were being imprisoned. Most males, in early history, provided the money for shelter, food, and necessities. The concept of females being related to houses can be seen through an interdisciplinary approach. Anne Sexton, a 20th century author, wrote a poem entitled "The Room of My Life." This poem will be distributed at the beginning of my presentation because it displays a similar approach to the isolation of women.

Gilbert and Gubar also present three interesting terms called anorexia agoraphobia, and claustrophobia. These terms are considered attempts of "suicidal self-starvation" (260) and "social confinement" (260) which women who are imprisoned usually have.

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, discusses the effects of "a haunted ancestral mansion" (260) which can be related directly to The Yellow Wallpaper. The second sentence in The Yellow Wallpaper states "A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house" (Gilman 531) which shows a correlation of female insanity from the very start.

Gilbert and Gubar state a "distinction between metaphysical and metaphorical" (260) which separate male and female authors. There are different metaphysics related to male and female authors because male authors begin "recording their own distinctively female experience, then define their own lives" (261). This statement moves directly into my next point of female authors and their description of female inferiority. Gilbert and Gubar stated "women seem forced to live more intimately with the metaphors they have created to solve the "problem" of their fall" (261). So, why did Charlotte Perkins Gilman write The Yellow Wallpaper? Was it to explain the "fall of women" or was it to show the pain that she was living with? We may never know because this would involve author intent, but we can infer that Gilman was writing about a woman who had no control and gradually lost her insanity.

Gilbert and Gubar mention Gaston Bachelard, a critic, who "shows the ways in which houses, nests, shells, and wardrobes are in us as much as we are in them" (261). After reading this, I immediately thought about when women have children. What is the location of where children are born? I bet you are thinking hospitals or houses, in previous history, but this is another connection of women being related to houses or structures.

We are all thinking about women being related to houses, so is this born within females? Would you agree if I said that most female children play with doll houses? I would think so and this may involve psychology because female children play with doll houses, marry to care for a house, and, usually, die in a house. Wow, this is beginning to connect. In addition, Gilbert and Gubar state that Erikson said that "a female's womb is a child's first and most satisfying house" (261). So females are born in houses (wombs) and have connections with houses throughout there entire lives.

Let's talk about the male culture now because most men in early history, to the present, owned the home. For example, the male's name is usually first and then the female's name. Gilbert and Gubar also stated "to believe that as a house she is herself owned by a man" (260). Since I have been talking so much about women and houses, I think that we should look at a painting of women in the 17th century as an example. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo painted "Two Women at a Window" which quickly took my attention because the women are in a house. Many references can be made about women in houses, but why has this reference been so vivid in paintings and literature?

Simone de Beauvoir stated "the confinement of pregnancy replicates the confinement of society" (261). This statement is interesting because it does not specifically say females are isolated, but it implies a unified gender approach which includes males and females.

Now let's move onto the text of The Yellow Wallpaper and see what is really going on. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was "treated for a similar problem" (262) which probably would have been some type of mental illness. So, is this why she wrote the text? But wait, Gilbert and Gubar stated that Perkins was "treated by S. Weir Mitchell, a famous "nerve specialist" (262). This man was not only a doctor, but an author. The link for him lists all of the books that he published.

So, I bet you don't know what a medical paternalistic physician is? Well, this is my own blog that I wrote about when reading Gilbert and Gubar initially. It links to what a paternalistic physician is and offers my insight about this topic. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defined paternalism as "the interference of a state or an individual with another person, against their will, and justified by a claim that the person interfered with will be better off or protected from harm" (Dworkin 2005). This reminded me of what happened to the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper.

As a result of women being entrapped within a house, we can begin to connect the ideas of what really happened. Gilbert and Gubar referred the sickness with "bars, paper, figure, and haunt" (262) which can be related to someone who is losing insanity or has been excluded from society for a long time. While reading these terms from the essay, I quickly thought of the movie production called "The Grudge" where a woman (deceased) has been contained within a house for years and a new family moves into it. After a while, this creature or person with has lost their insanity begins to try to get the people who are in the house. This movie can be related to the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper because both characters are female and, both, have been isolated and the result is illness and a look of "a monster" (262).

It seems that the more I relate different authors, movies, or facts, then the more everything seems to fit together. Finally, since the narrator has been isolated because of John, there seems to be a twist at the end. John faints when he sees her and this can be seen as the narrator proving that she is only becoming insane because of him.

Click here for the course web page devoted to March 26, 2009.

MLA Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Contexts for Criticism. Ed. Donald Keesey. New York: McGraw, 2003. 531-38.

Sexton, Anne. "The Room of My Life." The Complete Poms of Anne Sexton. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981. Poetry Foundation. 2009. 15 March 2009. .

Murillo, Bartolomé Esteban. "Two Women at a Window." National Gallery of Art. 2009. 15 March 2009. .

NNDB: tracking the entire world. "Mitchell, S. Wier." 2009. 15 March 2009. .

Other references include wikipedia, thefreedictionary.com, and Online encyclopedia

10 Comments

Good job, Derek, I think you did a good job bringing out the good parts of Gilbert and Gubar’s essay. I know I kept focusing on all the parts of it I didn’t like or agree with, so it was very interesting to read your blog which focused on the good parts of it. Maybe I dismissed all of their arguments too quickly simply because I didn’t like some of them. Despite how well you explained the article though Derek, I’m still not sure I totally agree with Gilbert and Gubar.

This whole idea of women’s habitations being reflective of their psyches or what they are going through and vice versa is certainly an interesting thought. As you brought up, Jane Eyre is fraught with references to the houses and rooms in which Jane abides. First, when she still lives with her cruel aunt and cousins, Bronte stresses the fear and torture which is inflicted upon Jane as she is thrust into a “red room” for punishment. It’s been almost five years since I read the book and I don’t have a copy in my dorm room (so maybe someone else who’s read it more recently can confirm this), but if I remember correctly, there was a big emphasis placed on the red curtains in particular. Later, when Jane attends Lowood, the building is very sparse, bare, and dreary. Again, when she arrives at Thornfield to act as Adele’s teacher, much description of the manor is given.
I would like to point out though, that in the end, the one driven insane by the house is not Jane herself, but Rochester’s wife, Bertha. Bertha is the one who loses her mind, who is literally imprisoned in her own house, and who burns Thornfield to the ground, killing herself in the process. Jane, in a sense, is freed by this event, since Bertha’s death allows her to end up with Rochester. So what can this mean? Do some women profit from other females’ entrapment?

Jane seems to have been trapped as well, for example, she was locked in the red room I mentioned earlier. However, I think it’s notable who is doing the trapping in this case. It is her aunt who locks her in the room, not a male character. So how much of this entrapment is truly a result of men and how much of it is a result simply of society in general? What do you think? Bertha is the character that goes insane and therefore can be related best to our narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” why is it that the relatively minor character of Bertha is the one to pay the ultimate price, while the more important Jane gets her happily ever after? If women are truly trapped and this is represented by buildings, why does the protagonist not go insane? Another consideration is that excessive description of the surroundings is a part of the convention of the gothic novel, so how much of this relates to women’s entrapment and how much to the convention of the genre?

Another interesting case of emphasis on a house can be found in Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” We have two siblings (one male and one female) who both seem to be suffering from some mental insanity. The female sibling is believed dead, and is locked in a room for several days. After this time, the other male sibling and his friend start hearing noises and low and behold, the female sibling wasn’t dead. They buried here alive. She escapes from where her body was placed and falls on her brother, which kills him because of how scared he is. The friend (who is also the narrator) escapes just in time for the house to collapse. So again here, we do have female entrapment, but isn’t there also male entrapment? After all, it is not just the female sibling who dies, but also the male. So, I think it’s more complicated than houses simply representing females’ imprisonment by men.

I mean, can’t men be trapped by houses just as well as females? All boys start out safe and sound in the house of their mothers’ wombs just as females do. Derek pointed out that men frequently are the ones that own the house, but can’t this very ownership cage them in a sense? In forces males into having responsibilities and having others that depend on them. Couldn’t this lead to a sense of entrapment which could be shown through buildings?

For a literary example, we are reading Edna O’Brien’s novel “The House of Splendid Isolation” in Advanced Literary Study right now. Josie excessively describes the house she marries into when she first arrives. Josie comments (I’ll type the passage out for those who may not have access to the book), “Her husband…steered them around to the second lot of gates, the imposing silver gates which led to the front of the house and which were ceremoniously opened. She took it in almost at a glance: the breast of the house a washed blue and the side gables pointed in bluish stone, stables all along the back, every variety of window in the house proper, some of them bowed, and in the stooping verandah panes of multicoloured glass shot with the sun’s rays. The house of the low-lying lake. Any girl would have given her eyeteeth to marry into it” (29). Note the repetition of the word “gate” (being locked in or out) and that she refers to marrying into it [the house] and not to marrying the man himself. She again describes the house in detail in her old age as it begins to fall apart, “Her house seems so precious to her, even its decay. Her house should not have to suffer this” (78). Josie’s hopeful dreams slowly crumple into nothing as her marriage goes bad and slowly decays. But from the last quote I cited, she seems to value it all the same. Yes, her husband beat her and she has many regrets, yet it is still all “so precious to her, even its decay.” This passage hints that perhaps she cherishes even the bad parts of her life when she felt stuck. Furthermore, it isn’t just she who feels trapped by the house. Of Josie’s husband, O’Brien writes, “On the shore he paced. God knows how many miles he covered doing the rounds of the fields and the lakeshore and then up to the house and back again, loath to go in. Looking for something. His childhood. The child he did not have” (52). Doesn’t he seem just as trapped?

So, what does everyone think? Can houses represent male entrapment as well? Do houses represent female entrapment more so than male? Do you think Gilbert and Gubar while pointing out an interesting idea didn’t quite think through all the possibilities of what buildings can truly represent?

Do some women profit from other female entrapment's? This is a good question that I had not thought about before. I think that obviously, it depends on the story and its context, but it can be true.

I also think that there is more to it than simply houses and females. I think that men can be trappen by houses, but in most cases we see the female being trapped and then ending in a dreadful situation.

You surely made a good point, Greta!

I think that "House of Splendid Isolation" uses the house as a safety net for McGreevy because if caught, then he would be in a lot of trouble.

How about this...

Would you agree if I said that a lot of male characters in movies usually get trapped in cars?
"Fast and Furious" is a good example because the main character's brother gets trapped in a car and almost killed if his brother does not conform to specific rules form another person.

So, is this a matter of gender? In other words, do authors use masculine entrapments whereas females get simply and not so terrible entrapments?

I hope I am making sense here, bu it seems that females get a "easier" entrapment, then males or is it becuase of the society we live in?

What a wonderful blog comment, Greta!

Many details, with many facts, and many great questions!

For anyone who is unfamiliar with Jane Eyre, here is a youtube video of a clip from a BBC movie of Jane Eyre. The clip is of the scene that I was referring to when Jane is locked in the red room. I think it’s a pretty accurate representation of the book.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThlLlkv2GTE&feature=related

Before I address your comment Derek, I thought of another interesting example which is a bit different than how Gilbert and Gubar represent things. This isn’t actually a literary example, but one of an author herself. I think the way in which Emily Dickinson lived her life is important to consider as well. In my last comment I brought up that females can trap other females, and that males can be symbolically trapped in houses too, but what about Dickinson’s case? She chose to stay inside her house and rarely ever left. Never leaving one’s house can be seen in a sense as entrapment, yet she made a conscious choice to be a hermit. So I think there can also be self-entrapment inside a house. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something caused by men, women, or society, it can be caused by oneself as well.

As for the car issue, I can definitely see what you’re saying. I’ve never seen the Fast and the Furious, but if we consider the idea of driving quickly in car, it can almost be seen as if the character is trying to race away from or escape the imprisonment they feel. Stereotypically, it is always the male who has the cool car and the female that is attracted to it. But if this is the case, and it is men in particular who drive these cars which are alluring to females, couldn’t these cars represent female entrapment? They are drawing in the women for the men to use. I think of James Bond when I think of this (no insult intended, I happen to like the movies myself); he always has a new car every movie which he eventually destroys. At some point he almost always ends up with some woman who at some point is in the car. And Bond does his usual with the female…(I will admit the last two Bond movies haven’t been quite as bad about having Bond make love to some female character that he cares nothing about who usually ends up dead later). Isn’t this in a sense more female entrapment, than male?

I guess really what I’m trying to say is that just like the houses, I think that cars could be seen as a confining symbol for both men and women. And conversely, I think houses and cars can both represent liberty and independence. When a young person goes and buys their first house, this could be alternately freeing in that they don’t live with their parents anymore or it could be jailing, after all now that person is obligated to pay rent every month. And cars can go fast and get you somewhere, or you can just be driving in an attempt to free yourself from your confinement, or cars can represent entrapment for men or they can represent it for women.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while all these material objects can represent various things; I don’t think they are necessarily bond to represent it for only males, or only females. My problem with Gilbert and Gubar’s essay was that they simplified things too much and ignored the fact that these symbols can work both way and that it doesn’t necessarily mean that just because a woman feels trapped in her house that it is a male’s fault. I think they were overlooking the complexity of the issue. I don’t really think it’s something you can necessarily generalize about; one needs to look at each case individually, instead of simply saying houses represent female entrapment.

Derek. Great job on your blog! I look forward to your presentation tommorrow. I agree with you, Greta, that the males seem just as imprisoned by the houses as the females. I found an interesting contrasting view to that of your article Derek. You may recognize it as one of the poems we didn't get a chance to go over in Irish Literature. It was the poem by Eva Gore-Booth called "Women's Rights." Unfortunately, I could not find an electronic copy to hyperlink here so I guess I'll just have to explain the poem for those who are unfamiliar with it. Essentially, the women are fighting for their rights (duh, based on the title) and are represented throughout the poem by nature. The males, however, are represented by developed society and buildings. This is the exact opposite of what the critics are saying in your article, Derek. It is interesting to see how Gore-Booth gives the women the freedom and locks the men up in buildings. At the same time, the women are asking to be liberated. What really bugged me about this poem is that I couldn't see how her imagery matched her message. If she wanted the women to get freed, they should have been the ones in the buildings, not the men. The whole purpose of the poem seems to be that the women want the right to be locked up like the men as it is. For this reason, that I didn't try to analyze this poem for one of our papers. Do either of you two have any suggestions of why this was done?

Before I address your comment Derek, I thought of another interesting example which is a bit different than how Gilbert and Gubar represent things. This isn’t actually a literary example, but one of an author herself. I think the way in which Emily Dickinson lived her life is important to consider as well. In my last comment I brought up that females can trap other females, and that males can be symbolically trapped in houses too, but what about Dickinson’s case? She chose to stay inside her house and rarely ever left. Never leaving one’s house can be seen in a sense as entrapment, yet she made a conscious choice to be a hermit. So I think there can also be self-entrapment inside a house. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something caused by men, women, or society, it can be caused by oneself as well.

As for the car issue, I can definitely see what you’re saying. I’ve never seen the Fast and the Furious, but if we consider the idea of driving quickly in car, it can almost be seen as if the character is trying to race away from or escape the imprisonment they feel. Stereotypically, it is always the male who has the cool car and the female that is attracted to it. But if this is the case, and it is men in particular who drive these cars which are alluring to females, couldn’t these cars represent female entrapment? They are drawing in the women for the men to use. I think of James Bond when I think of this (no insult intended, I happen to like the movies myself); he always has a new car every movie which he eventually destroys. At some point he almost always ends up with some woman who at some point is in the car. And Bond does his usual with the female…(I will admit the last two Bond movies haven’t been quite as bad about having Bond make love to some female character that he cares nothing about who usually ends up dead later). Isn’t this in a sense more female entrapment, than male?

I guess really what I’m trying to say is that just like the houses, I think that cars could be seen as a confining symbol for both men and women. And conversely, I think houses and cars can both represent liberty and independence. When a young person goes and buys their first house, this could be alternately freeing in that they don’t live with their parents anymore or it could be jailing, after all now that person is obligated to pay rent every month. And cars can go fast and get you somewhere, or you can just be driving in an attempt to free yourself from your confinement, or cars can represent entrapment for men or they can represent it for women.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while all these material objects can represent various things; I don’t think they are necessarily bond to represent it for only males, or only females. My problem with Gilbert and Gubar’s essay was that they simplified things too much and ignored the fact that these symbols can work both way and that it doesn’t necessarily mean that just because a woman feels trapped in her house that it is a male’s fault. I think they were overlooking the complexity of the issue. I don’t really think it’s something you can necessarily generalize about; one needs to look at each case individually, instead of simply saying houses represent female entrapment.

Since Dickinson decided to stay in her house, did that mean that she had some type of illness or disorder that prohibited it?

I can see what you mean about females being entrapped by cars. The male has the car, the female is attracted to the male and his car, and then finally he is controlling her in some way. This is interesting...

I think that your reference to Bond is very good. I think that he uses many females in order to get information for some case, but he does not love her in anyway. So, he entraps the females by loving them and then gets the information to continue his job.

So, can a female entrap a male in a house?

I think that anyone can be entrapped by a house, but it depends what caused the entrapment.

Would you agree, if I said that entrapped females usually result in having some type of sickness? In other words, whether the male does the entrapment or not, we see that anyone who is isolated from society becomes dislocated from theirselves and this results in some type of sickness.

Good comments and discussion!!

Nothing prevented Dickinson from leaving her house, she wasn’t sick or crazy, she just didn’t want to leave her house. But you bring up an interesting point about men being trapped by women in houses. I definitely that women can entrap men in houses, just as men can trap women. As for whether people who stay inside houses end up sick, I don’t know if I think that is necessarily the case. I mean I certainly think it could ultimately result in that. But my point with Dickinson was that some people simply chose to stay in their house and not leave. A house can be a sort of sanctuary in some instances, a place where one can escape from society and its expectations. However, if someone actually does feel trapped in a certain place, if they are trapped long enough, I think they probably will become sick.

There's plenty of evidence from within Dickinson's poetry that she new nature well, so it's a bit of an exaggeration to say she never left her house. She did go away to college, and her father was a politician in Washington, and she visited him there a few times, so it's not as if she had lived in a windowless room under the stairs.

Thanks for the comment, Dr. Jerz! I think that it is interesting to note that Dickinson did leave in order to meet certain demands or to get away.

Greta- I am understanding your concern and I think that some women do choose to stay in their house without leaving. This may be because of a male entrapping them or because they do not want to leave their safety zone.

So, back to Gilbert and Gubar and a question to all!

Do you think that S. Weir Mitchell caused Gilman to write such a story or was he only one part of the problem?

I know that this lends way to author intent, but it is some food for thought.

Did Gilman, and other people in the 19th century, fear of seeing people in public or in the world?

Lastly, does sickness, fear, or personal choice provide reason behind many authors or people not leaving their houses or does these factors help an author write a very interesting narrative?

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Derek Tickle published on March 15, 2009 5:23 PM.

Lend a helping hand of Freedom, Forgiveness, and Fertility was the previous entry in this blog.

Critic Gaston Bachelard and the Female Sacrifice is the next entry in this blog.

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