The Struggle for Power in The Yellow Wallpaper, Daddy, and Editha
American Literature 9 March 2013 The Struggle for Power in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “Daddy,” and “Editha” Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s piece, “The Yellow Wallpaper” (written in 1890, published in 1892), is a semi-autobiographical piece that, although believed to be a result of her severe postpartum depression, illustrates the difficulties faced by women during the Women’s Movement. These difficulties are further illustrated by the similarly semi-autobiographical poem, based on Plath’s father and husband, “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath (written in 1962, published in 1965).
These gender roles are then reversed in “Editha,” (written in 1898, published in 1905) which has been said to be William Dean Howells’s response to the Spanish-American War. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and “Editha” by William Dean Howells all illustrate the conflict in gender roles during the Women’s Movement in 19th and 20th Centuries. From the beginning, the narrator in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” allows men, especially her husband, John, to be superior to her.
As a physician, he orders her to stay in bed and discontinue anything stimulating, such as being imaginative or writing. Though she feels better when she writes, and feels it may be beneficial, she does not speak against John but writes in private: “Personally I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do? ” By asking the end question, she essentially states that she is not her husband’s equal and has no choice but to listen, and is accepting of this.
She even follows John’s orders even when he is not present to enforce them: “John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad. So I will let it alone and talk about the house. ” This reaction can be compared to what many people experience today with doctors. Although people usually know what will make themselves feel better, they will most often follow the advice of a doctor instead, simply because physicians are figures of authority. The narrator knows that writing and socializing would help and clearly wants to recover rom her illness, but she allows her husband and brother, who is also a respected physician, to control her treatment. The woman’s description of the wallpaper is symbolic of the evolution of her illness. The wallpaper, upon first introduction and description, fully illustrates how the woman regards her illness: “It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide-plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions. As Paula A. Triechler states in her paper, “Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’” “Like all good metaphors, the yellow wallpaper is variously interpreted by readers to represent (among other things) the “pattern” which underlies sexual inequality, the external manifestation of neurasthenia, the narrator’s unconscious, the narrator’s situation within patriarchy” (3). This portrays not only how the woman feels about herself and her illness, but also the effect of her husband’s orders.
The “lame uncertain curves” are likely a reference to her husband’s treatment orders, and “suicide” could very well be the result if followed. The “unheard of contradictions” express the faultiness of John’s methods. At one point she describes his contradictions: “he says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me,” yet, he does not allow her to do as she wills. She describes writing as a relief, but because John has instructed her to stop writing, she lets her imagination run with the lines of the wallpaper.
The more she allows her mind to wander, the more confident she becomes, which is reflective in her description of the woman in the wallpaper. The initial description of this woman is of her “stooping down and creeping about. ” The woman in the wallpaper is a direct reflection of the narrator’s confidence and feelings of inferiority, and the change they undergo. Initially, the woman in the wall symbolizes the narrator’s fear of presenting herself and her opinions, and being her husband’s equal. She begins to display a building confidence in herself, and an almost amused view of John’s orders.
When John tells her that she seems to be doing well, in spite of the wallpaper, she has to stop herself from openly laughing. It is at this point, where she is building confidence in herself, that she begins to see the woman in the wallpaper more clearly. She states, “I think that woman gets out in the daytime! And I’ll tell you why — privately — I’ve seen her! ” symbolizing her confidence beginning to emerge. Finally, she allows herself to be fully confident; she allows her mind to fully explore the wallpaper. The lines, “then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor.
It sticks horribly and the pattern just enjoys it,” symbolizes the destruction of that which limits her. One may argue that she has had a psychotic break, but the intention of these lines is to show the narrator gaining confidence. As Gilman says herself in an article submitted to the October 1913 issue of The Forerunner regarding her treatment: “then, using the remnants of intelligence that remained […] I cast the noted specialist’s advice to the winds and went to work again—work […] in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite–ultimately recovering some measure of power. This is the same message as the last lines of the story; “I’ve got out at last,” she says to John, “in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pushed off most of the paper so you can’t put me back” meaning she can no longer be told what she must do and she is now in control, creeping over the fainted John. Similarly, Sylvia Plath illustrates the path she took to break free, from the memory of her father, in her poem “Daddy. ” Plat compares the confinement her father’s memory has created to a shoe, that for thirty years, she was trapped in, too scared to “dare to breathe or Achoo. Throughout the poem, Plath uses similes and metaphors to give a dramatic view on the relationship between herself and her father. Plath aligns gypsies and Jewish people with the female figure, and she aligns German Nazis with both male figures, she employs these comparisons to draw women as victims and men as persecutors. Plath continues this description of confinement by saying she is a Jew in “Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen. ” She continually describes her father as black, and even tells her father: You stand at the blackboard, daddy, In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot But no less a devil for that, no not Any less the black man who Bit my pretty red heart in two. She resents her father for abandoning her, yet she still feels bound to his memory, so much so that after burying him at the age of ten, she attempted suicide at twenty trying to “get back, back, back” to him (“Daddy” 59). Plath further illustrate this confinement to his memory by explain she married a man who, essentially, was her father but after 7, metaphorically, killed her husband thus freeing her of the memories of her father. As Guinevara A.
Nance and Judith P. Jones explain in “On ‘Daddy,’” Plath accomplishes, through the use of relative chronological sequencing of childhood memories, and on through the attempted suicide “to the point at thirty when the woman tries to extricate herself from her image of daddy, is a dramatization of the process of psychic purgation in the speaker” (par. 3). While “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Daddy” are stories illustrating women breaking free, “Editha,” by William Dean Howells, is a story of a woman who desires to overpower her betrothed and by doing so pushes him into war.
Editha wants a hero in William Dean Howells’s “Editha” and will not stop short of persuading her betrothed to go off to war to achieve this dream. In this short story gender differences are at play, but in reverse: Editha feels a patriotic duty to her country even if that means going off to war, while George sees war as absurd. In addition, as Philip Furia from the University of Minnesota states in “Editha”: The Feminine View, Editha’s idealistic mind set is tainted by her “unconscious desire to disarm her lover” (279).
This unconscious desire is illustrated by her excitement in regards to the war, the possibility of George being maimed and her belief that he will be perfect if he enlists. Upon hearing of the war declaration Editha immediately thinks of George and how glorious it would be if he were a war hero. She feels it is a man’s patriotic duty to serve his country, in war; however, she hardly perceives the sacrifice of enlisting, in most cases that sacrifice being the enlisted’s life. Editha is focused on a picture of perfection and how she will appear to others as the woman betrothed to a heroic solider.
She believes he would be perfect and worthy of her love if he enlists. George’s feelings about war are quiet opposite and he voices this when he asks “is it glorious to break the peace of the world? ” (“Editha” par. 9). He clearly finds war to be unnecessary but this belief vanishes after he goes drinking with friends. He then returns to Editha’s house, drunk, to boast about enlisting and his title of Captain. Editha is delighted with his enlistment, even after George tells her of his father, who lost an arm in the Civil War.
This story, instead of scaring her as George intends, thrills Editha; she becomes fascination with the idea of George needing her two arms, which would give her superiority (Furia 280). Editha’s preoccupation with overpowering George is evident in her reaction to him, drunkenly, recounting enlisting after which he kisses her in a manner very “unlike him, that made her feel as if she had lost her old lover and found a stranger in his place,” she finds that “within her wilfulness she [has] been frightened by a sense of subtler force in him [sic]” (“Editha” para. 4). After George has announced his enlistment, Editha is delighted with his near-perfection, but this near-perfection is lost when George’s name is on the list of those killed. She reels not only from grief but from disbelief because her idealistic picture did not include this and, for that reason, she cannot grasp how it could possibly be. Editha goes to visit Mrs. Gearson, as George had asked before deploying, it is then that Editha cries; however, Editha cries with relief because she feels in Mrs.
Gearson’s accusation, that girls and women “think [the soldiers will] come marching back, somehow, just as gay as they went, or if it’s an empty sleeve, or even an empty pantaloon, it’s all the more glory, and they’re so much the prouder of them, poor things! ” she has been understood (“Editha” par. 118). These three pieces delve into the theme of gender inequality which, during the time these pieces were written, was being questioned and changed through the Women’s Movement.
These pieces provide three different views of gender conflict: wife versus the superior husband in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” daughter versus father and later wife versus husband in “Daddy,” and man versus the woman who desires superiority in “Editha. ” Works Cited “. ” Internal. org Poets. N. p. , n. d. Web. 2 Mar. 2013. “Editha. ” William Dean Howells’s Short Story. Readbookonline. net, n. d. Web. 2 Mar. 2013. Furia, Philip. “‘Editha’: The Feminine View. ” American Literary Realism, 1870-1910 12. 2 (1979): 278-282. JSTOR. Web. 2 Mar. 2013. Gilman, Charlotte P. Gilman, Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper. ” The Department of History. The College of Staten Island/CUNY, 08 June 1999. Web. 01 Feb. 2013. Nance, Guinevara A. , and Judith P. Jones. “On ‘Daddy’” Modern American Poetry. University of Illinois English Department, n. d. Web. 1 Mar. 2013. “The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. ” Electronic Text Center. University of Virginia Library, n. d. Web. 01 Feb. 2013. Treichler, Paula A. “Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’”Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. 3. 1/2 (1984): 61-77. JSTOR. Web. 01 Feb. 2013.