Imagery and Insanity in The Yellow Wallpaper A major theme in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is that solitary confinement and exclusion from the public results in insanity. The use of imagery and setting helps illustrate this theme throughout the story. The unnamed protagonist in this story suffers from a nervous disorder which is enhanced by her feeling of being trapped within a room. The setting of the vast colonial mansion and particularly the nursery room with barred windows provides an image of loneliness and seclusion experienced by the protagonist. Another significant setting is the mansion connected by a “shaded lane” (66) to the beautiful bay and private wharf. It is possible that in her mind, she sees a path which leads to the curing of her illness where happiness and good health awaits at the end. The reason the lane is “shaded” is because she is uncertain whether or not this path can be traveled. Upon moving into the mansion, she immediately becomes obsessed with the nursery room wallpaper with “sprawling, flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin” (64). Her days and nights are so uneventful that she finds relief in writing a journal which becomes more tiresome as her sickness progresses. In every few paragraphs in her journal, she analyzes the wallpaper. Through the imagery she evokes from the wallpaper, it can be seen that she is really analyzing herself and her illness subconsciously. For example, she begins to see “a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design” (67). She describes her illness (as seen in the wallpaper) as “not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of” (68). In other words, she cannot make any sense of what is causing her illness. A pivotal moment in the story is when the woman protagonist is concerned only with the yellow wallpaper in her journal. In lieu of her obsession with the wallpaper, she becomes engaged in the actions of the women she sees in the wallpaper which, of course, is really her own actions. The women “is all the time trying to climb through [the wallpaper]” (72). At this moment, she is desperate to escape her illness but she is unable to because her confinement in the room has already affected her more so than she realizes. The imagery of this situation is described when “the pattern strangles [the women] off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white!” (72). In the end or in her last day at the mansion, the isolation intensifies her illness to the point where she is no longer curable and insanity takes over. The protagonist finally recognizes the fact that the women she witnesses is really her own frame of mind and proclaims “I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!” (75). She believes that she has at last gained her freedom from the illness when in reality, the exact opposite has occurred. The incessant creeping is the final summation to her insanity.
Tennessee Williams and A Streetcar Named Desire
Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams in 1911. As a successful playwright, his career was greatly influenced by events in his life. He was noted for bringing the reader “a slice of his own life and the feel of southern culture”, as his primary sources of inspiration were “the writers he grew up with, his family, and the South.” The connection between his life and his work can be seen in several of his plays.
One strong influence that is evident in Tennessee Williams’ plays is his family life, which was “full of tension and despair”. His father, a businessman who owned a show warehouse, was known for his gambling and drinking habits. He was often engaged with violent arguments with his wife that frightened Tennessee’s sister, Rose. Williams cared for Rose most of her adult life, after his mother, Edwina, allowed her to undergo a frontal lobotomy. This event greatly disturbed him. Many people believe that Williams’ first commercial success, The Glass Menagerie, was based on his own family relationships. This play tells the story of Tom, his disabled sister, Laura, and their controlling mother, Amanda, who tries to make a match between Laura and a Gentleman caller. The characters seem to resemble the people in Williams’ immediate family.
Tennessee Williams was also inspired to write by the writers he grew up with. During college, he saw a production of Ibsen’s Ghosts, which inspired him to become a playwright. After graduating from the University of Iowa in 1938, he moved to New Orleans to launch his career as a writer. Here he found himself affected by the works of such writers as Arthur Rimbaud, Hart Crane, and D.H. Lawrence. He wrote the play I Rise in Flame, Cried the Phoenix, which dramatized the events surrounding Lawrence’s death. He considered it a tribute to a writer he greatly respected and admired.
Lastly, Southern culture inspired Tennessee Williams to write one of his most famous plays, A Streetcar Named Desire, as he based his major characters on people he knew or encountered. The character of Stanley Kowalski was based on a good friend of his whom he worked with at the International Shoe Company in the 1930’s. He was also inspired by the image of a young woman who had just been stood up by the man she was planning to marry.