The Yellow Wallpaper and the Swimmer
Denial is the refusal to recognize or acknowledge information. Charlotte Perkins Gilman and John Cheever intriguing stories display the struggle of two characters through imagery and symbolism. In the yellow wallpaper, Charlotte Gilman demonstrates the oppression of women by society while showing the struggle to be set free.
Alternatively, John Cheever conveys the ignorance of a man’s downfall through time. However, the yellow paper and the swimmer both show gradual loss of reality as the characters oppress their problems while they strive to fit in with the norms of society.
The yellow wallpaper takes the readers on a journey that captures the mind through the powerful and vivid imagination of the narrator written diary showing imagery through her words and thoughts. Suppressed by her dominant husband, the creative narrator finds escape through her writing, which she uses to tell her story. The story begins when a socially accepted husband, a physician, tries to “fix” his wife to fit the standard of society; nevertheless, it only leads to her destruction.
Forced to be normal, “so I take pains to control myself”, she puts on a facade to retain her marriage and social standing by acting as though her depression has not won the struggle. (Gilman) The swimmer, a journey of time that indicates the life of a man living in denial as the days or possibly years goes by. Living in a high classed suburbia, “…had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure”, Ned thinks highly of himself and less of others. Cheever) He feels as though he could do anything, a brave explorer he was, set on an adventure to cross the county of swimming pools or as he called it Lucinda River. As he embarks on his journey he encounters various people of who was or is close to him. Although motivated by alcohol through the story, it served as an escape from reality and social acceptance. From pool to pool Ned gets weaker and less reluctant to go on as the season changes. The characters of Charlotte Perkins and John Cheever, both suffering from denial of their situations, each find coping methods to release their anxiety.
Through creative writing the narrator of the wallpaper, was able to release her thoughts and tell her story, “I did write… in spite of them”, her only method of feeling as though she was being heard by someone or something in the yellow wallpaper. (Gilman) While Ned mastered the art of denial and heavy drinking of alcohol, willed his mind to forget and distort his unhappy thoughts. Living in a world of bliss, he forgets about his friend’s illness, moving away of friends and family, and his own misfortune. Depression, Loneliness, and confusion engulfed the narrator of the wallpaper, confinement broke her.
During the time of Charlotte Gilman, Postpartum depression was said to be “…temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”(Gilman). With her illness, she was unable to perform her role as a mother nurturing her child or as wife tending to her husband needs, rendering her useless. Set in these roles, women at the time were seen as domestic and unable perform any other task. The yellow wallpaper clearly evinces the oppression by her husband, “I am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again… Personally, I disagree with [his] ideas . . . , although she disagrees with the treatment, she has no say whatsoever when it comes to the matter of her illness, John does what he thinks is right for her. (Gilman) John decided that the best cure was the “rest cure”, meaning no brain stimulating activities while lying in a room confined. The narrator of the wall paper, having had to go through the resting cure, began to find comfort with inanimate objects. As a man in John Cheever time, a man was said to be the head of the household who provided for his family. Ned as a man and husband was unable to perform his duties as a family provider; therefore didn’t fit to the standards of society.
Through his mastery of denial, he began to lose friends, his wife, mistress, and kids. Those who he thought would always be there, moved on with their lives without the realization of Ned. Swimming from swimming pool to swimming pool he encounters a lot of his neighbors as he uses his trip as a distraction. Indeed it gave him comfort but also made him realize that he has been out of touch with reality. Not only does he see the changes as he goes from home to home, he experiences the full impact when he comes home to any empty house he expected to be filled with his family.
The yellow wallpaper and the swimmer share similar characteristics. With the characters both suffering from mental illness and addictions, both prove to be on a mission to be accomplished: The yellow wallpaper narrator seek liberty to do as she pleases, as the swimmer sought after absolutely bliss in life with no consequences. With both wants unattainable, they began alone and end up alone with no one to truly care for them, each being dissatisfied they turn to inanimate objects for their source of attention.
The narrator only source of excitement was the yellow wallpaper she despised so much, which shows her loneliness. She describes the wallpaper as having a smell “a peculiar odor… I have spent hours to analyze it, to find what it smelled like” (Gilman). She claims that john doesn’t know how much she suffers, which shows how little time he spends with her. Her loneliness only gets her more infatuated with the yellow wallpaper, which day by day she seems to find something new and creepy. The yellow wallpaper in a sense seems to describe her in a way.
She describes a woman behind the walls, who is trapped and unable to break through or maybe many women who have tried to climb out but had been strangled by the pattern. The woman behind the wallpaper in a sense describes the narrator. The wallpaper symbolizes her husband and family members holding her trapped, trapped with their words and confinement of the room. She describes the woman as wanting to break free, meaning she is looking for a way out, a way to free herself and show who she really was.
The many heads she describes the many times she has tried to escape but failed or for the many other women who have tried but failed. Her final decision to break the woman free was an expression of herself saying that she has had enough and it was time to become who she really was. Ripping the wallpaper was an expression of tearing away the heavy shackles put upon her to free her mind, to free herself mentally and physically from her husband and her facade of happiness. Ned journey through the county displayed his whole life.
The swimming pools and weather change was an expression of time as it flowed by quickly. At the beginning of the story he describes it as being warm but as the story ends it becomes chilly. The weather describes the way he felt, being warm was his high point of happiness, when it became chilly it showed that he has finally seen the reality that he lives in; time stops for anyone. The attitudes of the people he visited as he swam their pool changed as he went from pool to pool, from welcoming to trying to get rid of him, he showed a moment of loneliness as realization followed that he would be forever alone.
Charlotte Gilman and John Cheever intriguing stories showed the reader a side to their times and ages, showing the ideal male pride and female oppression. Charlotte Gilman character gradual loss of reality due to the characters around her, shows that one should be left to be free. John Cheever conveys the gain of reality as Ned sees the life of loneliness built around him. Furthermore, one cannot always fit the ideal of society.