Fall of The Yellow Wallpaper: Literary Analysis
Throughout today’s society, psychological obstacles within humanity are growing to be more and more familiar. Subsequently, there is a more widespread understanding of intellectual wellbeing amongst the population today. This was not the case for the 18th and 19th centuries, as society recognized insanity to take the shape of crooked gothic horror, ultimately restricting any advancement of a therapeutic model for mental illness. Edgar Allen Poe and Charlotte Perkins Gilman composed metamorphic stories that brought psychological elements such as depression, mania, and madness to light. Although “Fall of The House of Usher” and “Yellow Wallpaper” occupy vastly different character conflicts both internally and externally, they intersect through a common purpose in a desire to change social and scientific perspectives in terms of physical and mental illness.
Both Poe and Gilman urge readers to consider the importance of self-expression when approaching battles with mental health. The Yellow Wallpaper identifies this issue first-hand through the mental and physical constraints placed upon the narrator, driving her to the point of insanity. Keeping a journal is significant to the narrator as it is a place to keep her “unorthodox thoughts and perceptions that she is reluctant to tell a “living soul”” (Triechler 65). As her emotional and intellectual outlets are deprived, she becomes exclusively less equipped to deal with the war of emotions she is experiencing, ultimately guiding her to suffer from irrational thought patterns. Similar to the journal, Roderick, in The Fall of the House of Usher, looks to music, reading, and painting as his forms of self-expression. The narrator of the story watches this unfold as “[they] painted and read together; or [he] listened, as if in a dream, to the wild improvisations of [Roderick’s] speaking guitar” (Poe 6). Artistic purpose is a vital part of Roderick’s journey while fighting his deranged emotions. Overall, in unique ways, the stories underline a mutual endorsement as to why self-expression is a vital element when coping with mental illness. Without the ability to self-express, characters develop a loss of identity and find themselves becoming uncontrollably mad and fearful.
Despite both stories correlating in conflicts concerning underlying mental illnesses, the internal and external struggles and experiences of Roderick in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” are vastly different. The narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper is not treated as an individual; constantly being told she is crazy, cannot trust her own thoughts, and must subject her life over to her husband’s control. Isolation initiates a forceful shift in the narrator’s health as she describes, “I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time. Of course, I don't when John is here, or anybody else, but when I am alone. And I am alone a good deal just now” (Gilman 4). Growing more aware of her powerlessness, she falls deeper into feelings of depression and insanity. These feelings cause her to be perceived as less than an individual and lead her down a trap of self-annihilation. In contrast, what leads Roderick down the path of self-destruction is fear and paranoia. “He is described as a victim to the terrors that he had anticipated” (Spitzer). Roderick endures a sense of abandonment throughout his life, which triggers him to forestall the home as a place where he is restricted and should encounter constant confrontations with fear and anxiety. His own perceived thoughts are a driving force in the mental health deterioration he experiences. Generally, in both “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Fall of The House of Usher”, the characters seem to be submerged in their own state of mind, spawning illusions and compelling angst within their personal realities. Although the conflicts the narrator and Roderick face differ from each other, the conflicts are similar in the fact that they altered the other characters perceptions of Roderick and the narrator to something damaging. As characters, Roderick and the narrator are now seen more as misfits and peculiar to the people surrounding them.
Within both stories, elements of gothic literature are also seen in striking parallel to create impactful thematic significance. The stories communally share a medieval setting, which play an extremely pivotal role in developing an atmosphere of gloom and horror. In particular, the setting can be connected as a symbol to both Roderick and the narrator’s psychological states. Like the unnerving, elder homes both stories take place in, readers are ultimately able to link that the conditions the characters experience directly are ones that are eerie and unstable. In addition, both stories share “gothic themes of confinement and rebellion, forbidden desire and “irrational” fear” (Johnson 3). If the focus is put on how these gothic themes are laid out, however, the stories form a dramatic contrast. The narrative focus of “The Yellow Wallpaper” details an inward conflict, as “the narrator’s gradual absorption into the Gothic world of psychic chaos and imaginative freedom” (Johnson 4). In contrast, “Fall of The House of Usher” exhibits both internal and external conflict using repetition and ancestral curse. Roderick ultimately suffers due to the evil deeds of his ancestors, trapping him with no escape. The repetition element within “Fall of The House of Usher” reveals the sense of endlessness Roderick feels in his everyday life. Although both stories take on different styles when portraying these themes, they both define a similar relation that confinement and isolation can ultimately result in severe paranoia and fear.
In the end, Roderick and the narrator both experience mental instabilities that sustain a downfall to their physical and mental health. “Fall of The House of Usher” and “Yellow Wallpaper” foster a deeper understanding for the direct effects of environment, expression, and experience in psychological impairment. Through similar and different approaches in expression, character conflict, and style, both stories are effective in creating a pervasive understanding for the lack of societal and systematic perceptions concerning mental and physical health struggles.