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Comparison of Glass Menagerie, The Yellow Wallpaper and A Rose for Emily

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Literature is full of characters who go through mental torture at the hands of an individual or at the hands of the society. As a result, they become “neurotic.” Some of these characters are those that have stood by the test of time and are remembered even today by readers who are “normal.” This essay would explore the reasons – both personal and societal – that lead to the creation of such characters. It would do so by meaning the neurotic protagonists of The Glass Menagerie, The Yellow Wallpaper and A Rose for Emily.

The Glass MenagerieThe story is about Amanda Wingfield who is a middle-aged woman and an incurable romantic. Abandoned by her spouse and obligated to live in lifeless lower-middle-class environment, she runs away from reality into the fantasy world of her youth. Amanda is the neurotic mother incapable of letting go of the genteel courting ways of her Southern upbringing. She loves her children intensely, however, by her continuous nagging, her never-ending retelling of romantic stories of her youth, and her failure to face the realities of life she stifles her daughter, Laura, and drive off her son, Tom. (McGlinn 511)In the very first scene, she annoys Tom by constantly telling him how to eat who says: “I haven’t enjoyed one bite of this dinner because of your constant directions on how to eat it.” (Williams 4)

On the very dinner table she goes on to tell her children the stories of her girlhood which the readers are told have been told by her a number of time already. “My callers were gentlemen – all! Among my callers were some of the most prominent young planters of the Mississippi Delta – planters and sons of planters!” (Williams 5-6)The Glass Menagerie is said to be an autobiographical work by Tennessee Williams. According to the author, it is a “memory play.” In the story are delineated many personal and societal problems, for instance, the difficulties faced by single mothers and the intricacies a disability might create for a family.

The play concludes on a gloomy note, for the Gentleman Caller is already affianced, so Amanda’s wishes for a husband for Laura are shattered. Tom runs off to join the merchant marine navy but is not able to run away the memory of his sister. The burden of the past stays with Tom no matter where he does. This directly relates to the author’s life as Williams’ sister Rose and her mental problems were a constant, painful memory for the author.

Williams’ play relates to all readers as it is an archetypical example of a markedly American combination of themes: the breakdown of the American family because of the inborn sense of escapade and discovery in the American soul. Rising above its Southern ambience, the play speaks of each family’s struggle between generations.

The Yellow Wallpaper”The Yellow Wallpaper” is an autobiographical novel by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in which she depicts the negative effects of the treatment of women during a rest cure recommended for nervous disorders by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, who was a well-known physician. The story portrays the passive, childlike submission of women to men authority figures that was believed typical in early twentieth century.

In the story, the imbalanced relationship between the narrator and John is a microcosm of the larger gender inequality in society. Gilman makes it obvious that a great deal of John’s patronizing and fatherly attitude toward his wife does not have much to do with her illness. He takes no notice of her well-thought-out opinions, at the same time as he demeans her creative impulse. He speaks to her as he would to a kid, calling her his “little girl” (Gilman 10) and saying of her, “Bless her little heart.” (Gilman 10) He dominates her opinions on the best course of treatment for herself as he would on every matter, making her live at a place she does not like, in a room she dislikes intensely, and in an secluded setting which makes her sad and lonesome. John’s solicitous “care” demonstrates that he thinks that the popular scientific theories which assert that women’s natural inferiority leaves them, childlike, in a state of childish dependence.

Gilman makes the readers aware of the pessimistic images of women in her society. In her era, women’s right to vote turned out to be one of the main topics discussed in the home, the media, and the political sphere. As women’s reform movements put on the strength that would ultimately win the vote in 1920, the reaction turned into more fierce and treacherous. Renowned psychologists joined in and gave theories that “proved” women’s developmental childishness, low cognitive skills, and emotional insecurity. Doctors, who in reality had little understanding of the mechanism of the female body, offered multifaceted theories arguing that the womb created madness and psychosis, that it was the source of women’s lowliness. Ministers urged women to perform their duty to God and their husbands with the same obedience and faithfulness. In hauling up John’s demeaning treatment of his wife, Gilman accuses the system all together, in which several women were trapped behind destructive social definitions of the female.

The negative effects of John’s and the society’s treatment of the narrator can be seen in her reaction to the rest cure. At the start, she tries to struggle against the rising laziness that is taking over her slowly and gradually. She even confronts John’s treatment of her. Nevertheless, whereas one part of her may deem John wrong, the other part that has internalized the off-putting definitions of womanhood thinks that as he is the man, the doctor, and for that reason the authority, then he may be right. Since they hold unequal power positions in the relationship and in society, she is short of the courage and confidence to stress her will over his although she knows that his “treatment” is damaging her personality and health. (Benstock 62)

Deprived of any evocative activity, purpose, and self-definition, her mind becomes perplexed and, inevitable, childlike in its enthrallment with the shadows in the wallpaper. (Goodman 128)Like the “The Glass Menagerie,” in this story too the author Charlotte Perkins Gilman used her personal bout with post-partum depression to generate a powerful story which has broad implications for all women. Gilman wrote it after she ran away from her husband with her newborn daughter. More significant than the story’s relationship to Gilman’s own experience is the larger issue of a woman’s right to be imaginative and independent. Gilman’s intention in writing this story is to denounce not only a particular medical treatment but also the misogynistic philosophies and resulting sexual politics that make such a treatment probable.

A Rose for EmilyIn “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, Miss Emily, the protagonist of the story, is a grotesque, southern gothic character who possessed a neurotic or psychotic behavior in her relationships with her father, her lover, and her black servant. For instance, her affair with Homer Barron can be seen as a middle-aged woman’s delayed revolt against her oppressive father and against the town’s troublesome expectations.

Miss Emily was a child during the Civil War. She symbolizes the old Deep South of the Delta cotton-plantation nobility. She is a survivor of a bygone age of romance, gallantry, and the Lost Cause into the modern South. (Dilworth 12)The story brings into play ideas such as tradition, inbred obligation, and custom, suggestive of a perpetuation in the community perception of those old values. Miss Emily preserves all the departed, in memory if not literally. “See Colonel Sartoris,” she tells the new town fathers, as if he were alive. (Faulkner 29) The townspeople are like her in that they keep on preserving her “dignity” as the last delegate of the Old South; after she is dead, the narrator preserves her in the story.

ConclusionThe analysis of the three stories and that of their neurotic protagonists suggest that these characters are very much a representative of the problems of their society and are characterized in such a way that all (normal) people can relate to them. They speak of the issues of their age which pertain to all people of that society and can have an implication for people living today as well. What is noticeable is that all three neurotic characters belong to the fairer sex who are discriminated against by the society – particularly by the male members. In fact it is the society’s role in the lives of these women that turn them into the psychotic beings that they are in the stories. The personal experiences of the writers are also seen playing a role in two of them three works.

Works Cited

Williams, Tennessee; Blakesley, Maureen. The Glass Menagerie. Heinemann, 1996.

McGlinn, Jeanne M. Tennessee Williams Women: Illusion and Reality, sexuality and Love.” Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Ed. Jac Tharpe. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1977. 510-24.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Orchises Press, 1990.

Benstock, Shari. Feminist issues in literary scholarship. Indiana University Press, 1987.

Goodman, Lizbeth. Literature and gender. Routledge, 1996.

Faulkner, William; Robinette, Joseph. A Rose for Emily. Dramatic Publishing, 1983.

Dilworth, Thomas. A Romance to Kill for: Homicidal Complicity in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.’ Studies in Short Fiction, Summer99, Vol. 36 Issue 3

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