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A Unique Perspective of The Yellow Wallpaper

My perspective of Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper” is influenced by a great number of different and diverse methods of reading. However, one cannot overlook the feminist theorists’ on this story, for the story is often proclaimed to be a founding work of feminism. Further, the historical and biographical contexts the story was written in can be enlightened by mentioning Gilman’s relationship with S. Weir Mitchell. And I can’t help but read the story and think of Foucault’s concept of Panopticism as a method of social control. Lastly, of course, there’s the psychological perspective on the story, although in my readings of psychology, particularly the psychological knowledge surrounding both women and queers, I find the discipline incredibly tainted with patriarchy and heterosexism.

At this point, I’d like to define a few terms somewhat precisely, at least as I intend to use them in the context of this paper. In this paper, I use the term “queer” for two reasons: one of which is in the spirit of reclaiming a word that has traditionally been used to verbally abuse non-heterosexual people for decades, and secondly because in the heterosexual mindset there are no differences between bisexuals, gay men, lesbians, transgendered and transsexual people. Brett Beemyn and Mickey Eliason write: “We have chosen to use ‘queer’ because it best characterizes our own personal beliefs, and it potentially leaves room for all people who are attracted to others of the same sex or whose bodies or sexual desires do not fit dominant standards of gender and/or sexuality” (5). One of the first questions that must be answered, of course, is why is it important to look at literature from a queer perspective? Is a reader, such …

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…otte Perkins Gilman and the Politics of Form.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 14.2 (1995): 273-293.

Flannigan-Saint-Aubin, Arthur. “The Mark of Sexual Preference in the Interpretation of Texts: Preface to a Homosexual Reading. (Gay and Lesbian Studies).” Journal of Homosexuality 24.1-2 (1992): 65-89.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline

Defiance of Gender-Based Work Ethics in Bartleby and The Yellow Wallpaper

Defiance of Gender-Based Work Ethics in Bartleby and The Yellow Wallpaper

The issue of gender was an influential factor for writers in the 19th century, as Herman Melville and Charlotte Perkins Gilman explore in their pieces. In “Bartleby,” for instance, Herman Melville presents Bartleby as an employed scrivener-his service to the narrator is in the form of copying documents. This form of labor is appropriate for Bartleby according to 19th century society, which supported and approved of the male professional writer. However, he refuses this duty, and through his “I-would-prefer-not-to” statements, he challenges the standards held to him by society, reinforcing his individualism.

On the other hand, in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the female narrator is expected and ordered not to work-not to write-by her family and, in turn, by her society. But just as Bartleby refuses the expectations set upon him, so does “Wallpaper’s” narrator. This reverses “Bartleby’s” situation-culture does not want her to write, but she does so anyway. According to this presentation by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the 19th century female writer is suppressed and discouraged by the males of the era-an idea further supported by Richard Polwhele’s poem “The Unsex’d Females.” In his piece, Polwhele denounces the female writer and criticizes her advancement in the literary world. Therefore, although both Bartleby and “Wallpaper’s” narrator have labor standards to live with, through their defiance of these 19th century ethics, they present themselves as individuals through the work of writing.

In the case of “Bartleby,” many examples imply the acceptance of writing as a male profession. Firstly, all of the people in the office are men. “At the…

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…accepted and encouraged work. On the other hand, the female writer in “The Yellow Wallpaper” individualizes herself by working when she is not supposed to be, and by being the alleged unnatural woman that Polwhele describes. She defies what is socially acceptable and chooses to express herself through writing. The end result is the same-both characters grow as individuals through their social dissent.

Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories.” New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1997.

Melville, Herman. “Bartleby and Benito Cereno.” New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1990.

Polwhele, Richard. “The Unsex’d Females.” Women of the Romantic Period. 27 April 2001 .

“Hysteric.” Webster’s New World Dictionary. 3rd College ed. New York: Prentice Hall, 1994

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