‘The as when he flies and darts at

‘The girl I saw was myself yet not quite myself… Now they have
taken everything away. What am I doing in this place and who am I?’ -Antoinette
Wide Sargasso Sea

 

Compare and contrast the
oppression of female characters, in Gillman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and Rhys’
Wide Sargasso Sea and how they reflect the fragmentation and appropriation of
female identity.

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Antoinette and the un-named narrator in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper” are prime
examples of women who suffer through the dominant patriarchal period, of their
time. Even though written 70 years apart and in different eras, parallels can
be drawn between both women in the texts. It is clear to the reader they are
destined to be victims of male power and are controlled by their husbands.

Wide Sargasso Sea is an avant guarde prequel to Jane Eyre,
focusing on the voiceless character, Bertha. Both texts are a reflection of
patriarchal societies where women are silenced by the dominance of their male
superior. However, it could be argued that, Gillman and Rhys present an early
feminist angle to the story. Moreover, in The Yellow Wallpaper, a critic has
suggested that it is “unusual for a Victorian writer” to construct a novel with
such feminist ideology. Gillman, writing in 1892, must have had such an “early
feminist indictment of Victorian patriarchy.” Deeming a pre-feminist ideology to
and is “regarded as a classic in feminist literature.” http://www.lonestar.edu/yellow-wallpaper.htm Rhys constructs the female narrator as ‘unnamed’ which, further enforces
the idea that women in this period lacked significance in society. Rhys uses
the parrot as a symbol of Antoinette and Annette’s entrapment, the metaphor of
Coco’s wings being removed by Mr Mason, further removes the women’s freedom.

Additionally, the parrot has a metaphorical purpose, as when he flies and darts
at anyone who comes near her, firstly reveals Annette’s frustration, but as Mr
Mason has clipped the parrot’s wings, Annette can no longer show her frustration,
making her silenced. Further the death of Coco, “his clipped wings failed him
and he fell screeching” foreshadows Antoinette and Annette’s fate, in which
both fall in their fight for freedom.  In
comparison, in Wallpaper, Gillman uses the yellow wallpaper in the attic as a
psychological metaphor for both the reader and the narrator. The wallpaper
psychologically dominates the narrator and is ironically distressing as
wallpaper is usually seen as a predominantly female expression in the domestic
sphere. The provoking symbolic imprisoned woman in the wallpaper, could be a
mirroring version of the narrator and a device used by Gillman to reveal her
feelings of frustration and entrapment by her husband and society ” she takes
hold of the bars and shakes them hard.” Further, the repetition of the word
“creeping” represents how she has to continuously hide her true thoughts to
keep “dear John” content.

 

As the story continues, the narrator begins to develop her
own thoughts and opinions about John, and begins to distrust him, as she comes
to the resolution that he “pretended to be loving and kind”; and further
disobeys against his authority to rest. Towards the end of the book the
narrator develops into herself again, and begins to distrust John naming him
“that man” and “the creep” instead of “dear John.” The wallpaper begins to
become a companion and the narrator no longer feels oppressed by either the
wallpaper or John, resulting a role reversal as she is now in control of
herself. It could be suggested that even though Gillman didn’t give the
narrator a name as a symbolic purpose to represent the female race, she is
ultimately a sign of female oppression breaking through the patriarchal
domination. However at the end of the book the narrator states, “I’ve got out
at last…in spite of you and Jane.” It is ambiguous who “Jane” is, however as
she refers to the lady in the wallpaper as herself “I’ve pulled off most of the
paper, so you can’t put me back!” it is likely that Jane is the name of the
narrator. It could be suggested that Gillman used the name “Jane” as a symbol
of ordinary, to connote that all husbands oppress women in marriage.

 

Gillman depicts how the
significance of a female voice parallels with the stereotype of a ‘hysterical
woman’, commonly diagnosed in the 1800’s. Physicians concluded that a ‘quarter
of women had the illness,’ projecting a noticeable trend that it was an excuse
by men to control women, subsequently fragmenting the women’s identity. In the
Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator’s husband, John is a “physician of high
standing”, therefore his opinion on her “slight hysterical tendency” overrules
her own feelings, even though she “disagree(s) with his ideas.” Gillman makes
apparent how little voice the un-named narrator has in the novel, and further
how easy it is for John to appropriate her identity by “imprisoning” her. In
some cases it could be noted that this broad diagnosis, helped to silence all
intelligent women. Gillman’s article of “Why I wrote the yellow wallpaper” http://csivc.csi.cuny.edu/history/files/lavender/whyyw.html concludes that she was also diagnosed with the
hysterical mental illness, and additionally encouraged to undergo the “rest
cure”. This could be described as a tactical technique of control to put all
women in their place: in the home, “live as domestic as far as possible”. Gilman argued that “women’s
obligation to remain in the domestic sphere robbed them of the expression of
their full powers of creativity and intelligence, while simultaneously robbing
society of women whose abilities suited them for professional and public life.”

 

It could be argued the loss of identity in women through the control of
men is a typical theme through literature, this can be seen in Shakespeare’s
Othello, when he refers to Desdemona as a ‘monumental alabaster.’ This is also seen in Wide Sargasso
Sea, when Rochester refers Antoinette to a “doll” comparing her to an inanimate
object, cold with no feelings. “No warmth, no sweetness. The doll had a voice,
a breathless but curiously indifferent voice.” Moreover it could be noted that
typically, dolls are presented as hollow beings. Women who are stereotyped as a
“doll” could be suggested as a beautiful yet brainless, something to just
admire. It is ambiguous whether Antoinette’s “doll” exterior is only a mask to
conceal her rebellious impulses, or whether Rochester has completed his
domination to transform Antoinette’s identity into the English woman he always
wanted.  Likewise, Gillman uses
the inanimate woman in the wallpaper as a foreshadowing mechanism. This is through the constant
delusion of the woman breaking free from the confinements of society; which
develops into reality for the un-named narrator. It could be suggested that
Gillman is portraying how powerful a woman’s mind is, showing a psychologically
unstable woman breaking from societies expectations and confinements. The
impulsive “ripping” of the wallpaper to break free, demonstrates a physical “ripping”
from the barriers of society. This said, the portrayal of all three women, the
woman entrapped, Gillman’s “breakdown” from literature and the un-named
narrator are all parallels to one another and define a significant over-arching
representation of the appropriation of women’s identity.

 

In Sea, Rochester removes Antoinette’s identity by renaming her Bertha.

He concludes, ‘he renames her Bertha, as Antoinette is too complex” and “Bertha
is much simpler…a proper English name.” He further refers to her as vibrant
colours “too much blue, too much purple, too much green” all colours that are
associated with passion, power, strength and confidence. It could be argued
that Antoinette intimidates Rochester; the phrase ‘too much’ signifies how
overwhelming and exotic the untamed nature of the Jamaican girl is and
therefore needs to be altered, in hope to make her plain and submissive, “it is
the name I’m particularly fond of.” It is interesting that Rochester has to erase
Antoinette’s identity and mold her into something more conventional in order to
gain power in the marriage.

 

Ironically, in the 2006 adaptation by Brendan Maher, Rochester is
sympathetically portrayed as the victim of his environment and the
circumstances. Alongside this, Maher has also largely abbreviated
Christophine’s role, Antoinette’s mother, although in the book she plays a
vital part of Antoinette’s intimate upbringing; she is reduced to a sorcerous,
out to steal Rochester of his livelihood. This is an interesting cut, as Rhys

 

 

 

constructed a stark contrast between Rochester and Antoinette’s sexual
relationship being more apparent and further showing Rochester having slight
feelings for her, whereas in the book Rochester explicitly says he felt nothing
for her. Further, Rhys portrays Rochester as a somewhat villain, Maher instead
presents him as the protagonist, his thoughts and actions overshadow
Antoinette’s. In the film