Warnings on Analyzing Literature

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Regarding “’But One Expects That’: Charlotte Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and the Shifting Light of Scholarship”:

I really, really liked this essay.  I like how Dock et al went through the past editions and literary criticism of “The Yellow Wallpaper” and pointed out all the loopholes and faulty evidence that arguments have been based on.  I think the authors of this article really made a strong point and wanted to give those who would analyze literature a warning.  In fact, these are things we, even at the undergraduate level, should keep in mind.  The first warning is, “Examination of another legend about the initial reception of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ indicates what happens when critics stop looking for evidence after they find ‘facts’ that validate their interpretations” (478).  I know it is very tempting to do this and I’ve been guilty of this myself.  You go to the library find a couple articles read them and if they support your thesis you’re good to go and you stop researching.  While time constraints certainly require this at times (when one has multiple research papers to write in a matter of weeks, for example), but nonetheless, this article warns against just reading a few articles and stopping.  It is impossible to read all the articles on a work, but the more you read the better prepared you will be to point out flaws in other people’s articles (that you might be using as sources) and in your own claim.  After all, just because the easiest thing to do is to overlook the flaws in your argument, does not mean others will be so kind. 

The second warning is the following, “…these notions went unchallenged because they meshed with what those seeking to recover Gilman from obscurity expected and hoped to find.  Later critics operating from within the same frame of reference failed to challenge the prevailing wisdom” (480).  Again in this quote we get a little bit of the same warning that was given above.  We shouldn’t just research for what we “expected and hoped to find.”  It is detrimental to twist things so that they support what you want them to.  Someone somewhere is going to realize you are stretching the facts.  The new exhortation though is “to challenge the prevailing wisdom.”  In other words, we should not believe everything we read.  We need to challenge other critics and not assume that what they are saying is accurate. 

So in summary while you are researching for our term paper, consider these two things:

1. Don’t just read what supports your claim and don’t twist things to mean what you want them to.

2. Don’t believe everything you read.  Just because a predominant critic claims something doesn’t mean what they say is full-proof or true. 

Read more on Garson’s article.    

2 Comments

Sue said:

I agree with you, I think this is my favorite out of all the artcles that we have read this semester. I never realized how much critics can twist things to make themselves look good. I also realized that we really need to research before we say something is a true fact. I thought it was strange that some critics such as the feminist critics never did more research before makeing huge claims about what the yellow wallpaper was really about.

I also, really liked this essay. I wrote in my blog about how disturbing it is that even the information that we come across could be tainted by essay's that are validated and in anthologies. Just because they are published doesn't mean that the critcs writing these essays are doing their homework, so we need to really be doing ours.

I agree that it can be tempting to just find a few articles that support our thesis and go from there, especially as you said with time constraints, but I don't believe that that is what these critics were doing. I think they were too consumed in proving their own agendas, whatever those might be, so they chose to ignore that what they were writing might not be completely accurate and I find this disturbing.

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