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Instable Families in House of Usher, The Yellow Wallpaper, and The Dead

There is, of course, no such thing as the perfect family, although many families attempt to present the perfect family image. If we had insights into the families who claim to be perfect or ones who claim “satisfaction,” surely we would begin to see the fissures and “tokens of instability” in their foundations (Poe 720). Three stories from the last half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century — Poe’s “The fall of the House of Usher,” Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and Joyce’s “The Dead”– provide us with three types of troubled families, all three of whom seemed to provide “satisfaction,” yet which have fissures and instabilities.

Roderick Usher’s ancient mansion in Edgar Allen Poe’s famous story, seen from a distance, seems to have a structurally sound foundation, but it does not. “While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened — there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind — the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight — my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder — there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters — and the deep and dark tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the ‘House of Usher’ (Poe 732). Typically, the average American family goes through financial difficulties, marital problems, or long term illnesses — all disturbances in the family. In some cases, these crises can destroy the family. Usually, however, a family will not fall apart. When families are faced with a continuous cycle of crises that are kept hidden, then, because of the accumulation of problems, eventually, we see “the mighty walls rushing asunder (Poe 732).

In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Roderick Usher’s house is an emblem …

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…ntly there were fissures in the marriage the entire time; we must take a closer look at families to see the fissures. In Poe’s and Gilman’s stories, the revelation of families’ emotional wretchedness is revealed gradually.

Works Cited

Encyclopedia Britannica Online. “Manic-depressiveness psychosis.” 27 Sept. 1999. http://

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper”. R.V.Cassill, ed. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. New York, London, 1995: 403-417

Joyce, James. “The Dead”. R.V.Cassill, ed. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. New York, London, 1995: 476-510

Mitchell, Susan. The Official Guide to American Attitudes. New Strategist Publication, Inc. Ithaca, New York, 1996: 245

Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Fall of the House of Usher”. R.V.Cassill, ed. The Norton Fiction. New York, London, 1995: 717-732.

Essay on Oppression in The Yellow Wallpaper, At the Cadian Ball, and The Storm

Fighting Oppression in The Yellow Wallpaper, At the Cadian Ball, and The Storm

In their works, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin show that freedom was not universal in America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The three works, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “At the ‘Cadian Ball,” and “The Storm” expose the oppression of women by society. This works also illustrate that those women who were passive in the face of this oppression risk losing not only their identity, but their sanity as well.

Gilman’s female narrator, who either chose not to fight this tradition or was unable to do so, loses her sanity at the hands of an oppressive male-dominated American society. The narrator feels certain that the “rest cure” prescribed by her doctor is not working. She says that the men in her life are wrong to limit her activity. She feels that she could escape her depression if given the chance. “Personally, I disagree with their ideas. I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.”1 But despite this knowledge, the narrator does not act out against what she believes to be the incorrect ideas of the men who confine her and make her mental illness worse. Her growing insanity is inspired by and represented in the wallpaper of the story’s title.

The pattern on the wallpaper represents to the narrator and to the reader the male-dominated society that is depriving the narrator of her freedom. For the narrator, on a personal level, the pattern on the wallpaper represents the actions of her husband, doctor and her husband’s sister to keep her locked in the room and idle. While these people are ostensibly attempting to aid the narrator, they are in effect imprisoning her i…

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…he Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator does not act out and she loses her sanity. In “At the ‘Cadian Ball,” Clarisse acts out and she is successful. Calixta does not act out and she submits to a marriage to a man for whom she feels less passion. In “The Storm,” Clarisse continues to be happy because she acts in a manner that suits her. She goes away when she feels like it and both she and Alcee are happy. The theme that is recurrent in these stories is that it is important for a woman’s happiness and well-being to act out against an unjust society.

Works Cited

* 1 “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 1994, W.W. Norton

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