Free Term Paper on Oppressing Madness in Society

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The Oppressing Face of Madness in the Mirror of Society

For centuries women in life and literature were often portrayed as submissive, docile, and obedient to men. Focusing primarily on the nineteenth century, literature of the period often characterized women as victims oppressed by society, culture, as well as by the male influences in their lives. Many of the female characters suffered the effects of isolation brought on by constant oppression and subservience driving them insane and mad. The views of women in early literature were often silenced and their opinion’s disregarded by a dominant patriarchal society. One could argue that the men’s influence on society forged the distinctions between sanity and madness. This obsessive position to shape reality proved to be unhealthy and destructive but it was rarely acknowledged among the company of men. A Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) once quoted, “Too much sanity may be madness, and maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be!”

 ( Madness even though taboo and troublesome, seemed common in many female literary protagonists of the period. Thus far in the course we encountered the role of madness in such literary works as “The Story of an Hour,” and “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The role of madness and oppression in the works can be better examined in three aspects of: the causes of the induced madness, how each female character deals with the insanity, and how the similarities in madness link the texts to common social issues. The conclusion will show the significant roles madness and oppression played in the selected fictional stories echoing the real life torment women lived in. Speaking in an aesthetic tone, one will see that though the Yellow Wallpaper and The Story of an Hour are similar, however, tale by Gilman proves to be a better argument for portraying the role of maddens and oppression as a mirror of society of the time period.

Few works in fictional literature embody the portrayal and effects of madness better than Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Readers are presented with the tale of a woman suffering from a mental illness whose problems are compounded by the imprisonment she must endure. Set in a similar time period as the already discussed works, many of the same isolation and autonomy issues reside behind the conflict of Gilman’s narrative. The story presents the madness associated with the oppression of women during the era coupled with the unforgiving patriarchal view of society. John and his wife, the protagonist, venture of for an extended vaccion to a large house in the country. John is a respected physician who has prescribed rest for his wife who needs to recover from her ailment of a nervous condition and temporary depression. The woman’s initial bout with boredom quickly deteriorates to begin her acclimation to madness. She is confined to the bed and the house isolated from the outside world and society. Her stifled emotions and impulses are a result from John’s strict position on what he deems as treatment. The physical confinement and constraints placed on our character by John force her to become preoccupied with her surroundings such as the room, window, and curious wallpaper. If the saying “idle hands make for idle minds” holds true, then our narrator has found herself in a perfect environment for madness to take over. John has restricted from writing in her dairy to insure she is getting complete rest. “There comes John, and I must put this away- he hates to have me write a word.” (Gilman. p. 240) Now all she has is her thoughts and a room with a view to help keep her sane from herself and oppressing husband.

Initially there was a mere fascination with the wallpaper. It possessed odd patterns within patterns but wore a putrid yellow color. To deal with the setting madness, our character begins to try to discover what is behind the patterns in the wallpaper. After days and hours on end she discovers in her mind’s eye that she thinks she sees a woman trapped behind the labyrinth. “I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind that dim sub-pattern, but now I quite sure it is a woman.” (Gilman. p.245) The narrator is preoccupied by her temporary insanity but still holds on to the real world by occasionally interjected thoughts of her condition. She says several times that she wished she could be better faster but that it is the isolation and the restrictions of her husband that keep her down. With the obvious lack of companionship, she finds a new friend in the woman and vows to free her from the wallpaper. She later mentions that she often sees the woman creeping outside. She begins to hallucinate revealing the madness that is controlling her and her faculties. She also begins to show signs of paranoia by locking the door as she watches the woman creeping and while she tears away at the paper so John will not discover it. She no longer goes outside but rather work at freeing the woman nor does she allow anyone to come in to her lair of madness so she can surprise her husband. The poor woman dismisses her thoughts based on the conception that such actions are simply improper revealing the undercurrents of behavior of women in society even if they are not really in it. The woman remarking about her disgust with even looking out the windows any more mirrors this concept. “I don’t like to look out the windows even- there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast.” (Gilman. p.249) This reveals the madness brought on by society to women, to be accepted or to practice freewill they must creep to get around. Often people behave differently when they now society is observing them and usually act accordingly to avoid any ridicule or judgment. The narrator creeps by daylight behind locked doors allowing the madness to rule her every action without society seeing her condition. The character is faced with freeing the woman from the paper before her husband arrives back to the house to make their departing arrangements. This drives her insane now that she has a deadline to meet if she is to free her imaginary friend. She becomes consumed with madness keeping only to her task before she will allow anyone to see her great deed. In the story’s climax John’s worst fears are realized as he discovers that his sickly wife has truly gone mad. He comes to her and asks to be let in but she refuses because she is almost but not quite done with her work. “What is the matter? He cried. ‘For God’s sake, what are you doing?’ I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder. ‘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!’ Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!” (Gilman. p.249)
Now unknown by the victim, her madness was fully recognized by the world but in her world she was no free. The madness had served once again as a toll for a means of escape from a world in which an oppressed female protagonist could not cope with.

Kate Chopin’s, “The Story of an Hour” also presents a troubled women trapped in another unhappy marriage while on the surface she is portrayed as a misfortunate widow who has fallen victim to the tragic death of her husband Mr. Mallard. Some of the symbolism enveloped in Chopin’s The Story of an Hour and Gilman’s the Yellow Wallpaper are the solitary confinement within a room, an oppressed marriage, the feeling of being “free,” a locked door and eventually death on multiple levels. The first sentence of Chopin’s story illustrates the perception of Mrs. Mallard as being fragile and frail. “Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death. (Chopin. p. 32) Fearing that she could not handle the horrific news, her sister Josephine her, “ …in broken sentences, veiled hints that revealed in half concealing.” (Chopin. p. 32) After hearing that her husband was killed, Mrs. Mallard also went into solace in her room to console and to be alone with her thoughts much as our protagonist did in Gilman’s tale. Mrs. Mallard sits and looks out her open window noticing the signs of a new life free from oppression and her marriage, a rebirth of a sort as the title expresses with her ironic bliss found in that one hour. After a short slumber she awakens to an unusual and new feeling that she tried to push back but becomes powerless to it. She eventually becomes powerless to the feelings of strange joy and freedom from madness. “...And she was striving to beat it back with her will – as powerless as her two whit slender hands would have been.” (Chopin. p. 34) She was now her own woman free from her mind and heart’s prison. As the narrator suggests, Mrs. Mallard could now live for herself. “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself.” (Chopin. p. 34) Later there is an exchange between Mrs. Mallard and her sister as she is enclosed in her freedom only behind a locked door. After constant persistence, Josephine asks Mrs. Mallard to open the door. Much as our narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper, only after the locked door is open the truth is revealed. As aforementioned, when John came to the door her fainted a symbolic death, came as her saw the true madness he incurred on his loving wife, Mrs. mallard would too suffer a death from the shattered mirror of reality. After seeing her husband was really alive and well her heart ironically gave out on the spot in foyer. “When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease – of joy that kills.” (Chopin. p. 36)
The role of madness in the examined works reveals the effects of an oppressing patriarchal society women lived in during the nineteenth century. Though the narratives were fictional stories, they enlighten the audience with a glimpse into the minds of women who endured the real life torment often resulting in madness. The illness during the era had many negative social connotations as was usually never claimed as having any medical validation. Cures and treatments of mental illnesses in the 1800’s rarely accomplished any good but rather only further drove the victims to more insanity. The similarities of madness in the texts illustrate the true social problems of the time and difficulties women had to endure. The works mentioned both suggest that women who gather enough intellect and strength to perceive aspects of society as intangible tokens are looked upon as some sort of a “lunatic” or “mad.” The stories show the effects of women being trapped and oppressed by society that can lead to madness. The lack of control and voice women had during the period often forced them into isolation and mental imprisonment. Much like a caged wild animal, the characters went insane with their confinement to their lives. The similar situations of the women left them with three choices to which that had to resolve to. They could either choose acceptance, but this would deny any autonomy they had, they could choose death but society frowned upon that as well, or that could find freedom in madness. The madness freed them to practice freewill and gain their true identity.

Even in the face of their confinement and oppressions, the role of madness allowed the women to develop a suitable world in which to make needed transformations. Lastly, the narrator in Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, best portrays a stereotypical woman inflicted with madness but eventually gains her freedom by choosing to embrace her insanity that in her mind she has at least broken free from the shackles of isolation and oppression that enslaved her. The impact and significant role of madness served as far more than a creative literary tool to develop the examined narratives. It was also an instrument of voice and reason that allowed readers to gain some insight to previous social practices and the destructive repercussions they caused.

Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.”
Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Compact ed.
DiYanni, Robert. McGraw – Hill Higher Education. 2000.

Perkins Gilman, Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Compact ed.
DiYanni, Robert. McGraw – Hill Higher Education. 2000.


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