When literature first began to take flight in America, many of the stories written were of the Gothic variety. American society, at the time, seemed to connect with fantasy and reality, therefore many early writers wrote in the Gothic style. Most of these Gothic stories feature characters whose perceptions of themselves and the world around them are abnormal due to drug use, being in a dream state, or simply just madness. In comparing two short stories, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Yellow Wallpaper, it seems that the characters perceptions affect the way the reader understands the events of the story.
Charlotte Perkins Gillmans The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story that deals with certain issues that pertained to many women during the nineteenth century. The narrator is a fairly young woman that has just moved into a temporary home with her husband. Her husband and doctor, John, has diagnosed her with depression. His prescription is plenty of rest. This refers to the fact that in the nineteenth century, the man was responsible for taking care of the woman both financially and emotionally, while the woman was expected to stay at home. It has been well documented that this type of solitude can lead to an even deeper, darker depression.
The narrators mind is an interlacing of patterns, similar to the wallpaper. Her perceptions are abnormal and extremely confusing. The story can be interpreted in a completely different way than the woman describes. Perhaps the womans mind is so jumbled that everything she says is a complete lie. Over and over again, the woman says things that sound a little strange in the context of the tale she relates to the reader.
It can be concluded from the story, that the woman is not simply in a new home with her husband, who just so happens to be a doctor. She is more than likely in a mental institution, admitted for depression. She says that her new home stands quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village. (Gilman 551) She then describes the garden, saying, There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden large and shady, full of box-bordered paths. (Gilman 552) But what sort of house has a garden like the one described and separated from the main town? It seems likely that the woman is in an institution, but her perception of it is so distorted that she believes that it is her new house.
The fact that her husband is also a doctor suggests her mental state. She says that, He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special instruction. This sounds more like a description of a doctorpatient connection than a husbandwife relationship. The narrator also says that John is gone quite a lot on trips to see other patients and is only with her at night. Even then he is not always there at night. She says he is gone nights when his cases are serious. By nighttime she may mean the time when her doctor, John, goes to check up on her and sometimes he cant check on her everyday, because he is busy with the other patients in the mental ward.
The narrator also speaks a good deal on her room, which she describes as a big airy room the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls.(Gillman 552) She claims that the room was formally a nursery, but what nursery has rings in the walls and bars over the windows? Windows at mental institutions are commonly barred and rings are used to restrain frantic patients.
Then the narrator focuses on the wallpaper and really begins to lose her sanity. At first she describes the paper as, dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, (Gilman 552) this description can be compared to women in general. Women are confusing objects, but the more you dont understand them, the more intriguing they are. She also says that the wallpaper is stripped off, about as far as I can reach. (Gilman 552) She claims that children did it when it was a nursery, but it is stripped only as far as she can reach. This suggests that she was probably the one peeling the wallpaper off of the wall.
The wallpaper is obviously the womans source of madness. At first, she just dislikes the wallpaper, but after a while she begins to dispise it and its properties and implications in her mind. This can be seen in the fact that John believes she is getting better, when in actuality she is getting worse. She is going insane from her attempts to attain peace with the wallpaper. She becomes completely obsessed with the wallpaper. Why would anyone in his or her right mind be so concerned with a piece of paper? Eventually she breaks down and she begins tearing off the wallpaper. She then implies that she has a rope, which she hid. She plans to free herself from the miserable wallpaper, by hanging herself from the bars enclosing the windows.
Similar to the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper, Edgar Allan Poe makes his narrator of The Fall of the House of Usher insane as well. The narrator in this story also tells a strange tale that cant be taken from face value. He may be on drugs, because there is a constant referral to opium throughout the story. In The Fall of the House of Usher we never do know what is real, a dream, or a product of the narrators hysteria.
From the narrators description of the actual house, the reader can tell that there is something unusual and supernatural about the building. From the onset of the story we know that the narrator is not in his right mind, because he is terrified by merely the sight of the house, With the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit and that could have triggered his unclear perception of the coming events. Poe develops the narrators early uneasiness into a frenzy of terror. Although the narrator tries to view everything in a rational manner, upon seeing the house and its surroundings, he has a heightened sense of superstition.
The narrator is telling us a story of the Ushers and their house, when it is actually the story of his mental state. Madeline and Usher each represent a part of the mind and the narrator represents reason. This is evident because he refuses to accept anything he hears, sees, or senses. Even though he notices a faint blush upon the bosom and the face of Madeline, the narrator still continues to bury Madeline, because he refuses to accept what he sees.
In both The Yellow Wallpaper and The Fall of the House of Usher, the narrators perceptions of events give the readers a completely different sense of events then what is actually taking place. Gilmans narrator tells us that she is living in a house with her husband, when she is actually in a mental hospital with a doctor. Likewise, Poe uses his narrator to tell the reader a story of the Ushers, when the story is really about the Narrators mind and its insanity.