The Pros and the Cons of Feldstein

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From Richard Feldstein’s “Reader, Text, and Ambiguous Referentiality in ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’”:

“Thus, we are left to identify with the object of our choice: with the protagonist, whose loss of boundaries causes us to experience a similar loss of identity, with the narrator, whose prose writes itself as a presence absent from most critics’ deliberations, with both or neither of these narrative constructs.  We configure our own fictions” (406). 

There were parts of Feldstein’s essay I liked and parts I didn’t like.  So first, the good news (in other words the parts I liked).  I really liked Feldstein’s analysis of the shifts between the different spellings of wallpaper.  I’m going to have to admit that as soon as I noticed Keesey’s commentary on page 531 about the inconsistency of the spelling of the word wallpaper I was intrigued.  In fact, when Feldstein went over all the various publications of “The Yellow Wallpaper” and the changes people have made to the spelling of the word, I was shocked.  I think it is unbelievable that editors would go through and change that.  Such differences in a text should not simply be attributed to an author’s carelessness, chances are, it was done on purpose for a reason.  It reminds me a bit of a paper I peer reviewed last semester (by Angela actually) about the importance of the shifting appellation of the protagonist in Wharton’s The House of Mirth.  Sometimes she would be referred to as Lily, sometimes Lily Bart, and sometimes as Miss Bart.  Authors don’t just do such things randomly and I was most pleased to see that Feldstein was of the same opinion as me.   

I also liked how Feldstein broke his essay into sections (Miko did this as well).  I felt that it helped me understand the material presented better.  The headings helped make it clear to me what I was supposed to be focusing on in each section.  The divisions also made the essay seem more approachable.  If I didn’t understand something I just had one section to reread not an entire essay. 

Now for my quote which still belongs to the good news category.  I liked how Feldstein considered whether the narrator and the protagonist were one in the same or not.  Honestly, the idea never even occurred to me that they could be different.  I just assumed they were one in the same.  But, by pointing out the ambiguity of whether they are one in the same or not, “we are left to identify with the object of our choice.”  Feldstein swerves of a little into reader-response criticism (which I like).  He realizes in the end, it is the reader’s choice to believe what they want, and to construct ideas about the text as they please.  After all, “We configure our own fictions.” 

And now for the bad news—the part I didn’t like about Feldstein’s essay.  He seems to think for some reason or other, that the narrator caused her own insanity.  The essay is riff with this insinuation, Feldstein writes all of the following:

  • “her ‘regression’ becomes purposeful” (404)
  • “…is there therapeutic value in the narrator’s crawling as a means to shock her husband? (404)   
  • “…the narrator chooses to act out” (405)  
  • “the protagonist decides” (405) 

I just have a hard time understanding why anyone would claim that the narrator chose to go insane.  No person is going to crawl around on the floor or “creep” about by their own free will.  I understand that Feldstein is saying that she is choosing to do this in order to use the only power she has.  But nonetheless, I think it’s a bit ridiculous to say that the narrator does not actually have a breakdown and that she does everything that she does as a form of “revenge” (405). 

Read more on Feldstein’s article. 

2 Comments

Angela Palumbo said:

First of all, I'm glad I reminded you of one of the literary critics that we read. I'll take that as a compliment. :)

I agree with you about the insanity thing. As I said on Derek's blog, I do not think that there is any question about whether or not she is insane. She did go crazy. It is just the cause or a compilation of these causes that made her this way. I'm glad to see that someone agreed with me about this. I was hoping that I was not being close minded.

Bethany Merryman said:

Greta,
I really like what you have to say about the structure of the article, and also agree with you about the intrigue behind the inconsistencies throughout "The Yellow Wallpaper." I definitely agree with you that we should all take away the fact that "We configure our own fictions."

And following that up, I understand why you find Feldstein's interpretation of the narrators madness frustrating, but he has a valid point and is expressing one of his "configured fictions." I believe he was trying to explain that the narrator chose to act mad in order to prove to her husband that he was wrong about her illness. Because he wouldn't listen to her argument about her sickness, she decides to teach him a lesson of sorts, which we may see when he explains, "is there therapeutic value in the narrator’s crawling as a means to shock her husband?"

You certainly do not have to agree with this interpretation, but it is always interesting to look at other reader's understanding of the text.

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