“The Yellow Wallpaper” is the story of a woman who suffers from depression. Advised by her husband to rest, the woman becomes obsessed by the yellow wallpaper that decorates the room in which she has been confined.
Role of Women
“The Yellow Wallpaper” examines the role of women in nineteenth-century American society, including the relationship between husbands and wives, the economic and social dependence of women on men, and the repression of female individuality and sexuality. The Victorian Age had a profound impact on the social values in the United States. Victorian values stressed that women were to behave demurely and remain within the domestic sphere. Suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of her son, the protagonist is advised to get complete bed rest by her husband and brother, despite her suggestions that she would like to write and read. While she does secretly write in a journal, it . . . Read More
“The Yellow Wallpaper” opens with the musings of an unnamed woman. She, her husband John, their newborn baby, and her sister-in-law have rented a summer house. The narrator is suffering from postpartum depression, and the summer house will function as a place for her to get better. The doctor has prescribed a rest cure of quiet and solitude, with an emphasis on avoiding any form of mental stimulation like reading or writing. The woman notes that the room in which she is staying seems to be geared more for incarceration than rehabilitation. John classifies her merely as “sick,” thereby exhibiting the prevailing attitude of the day, that mental illness in women was not real. Following the doctor’s strict orders, he forbids his wife from doing any type of work and does not allow her to see her baby. The narrator believes that work, excitement, and change would do her good, but her opinion does not matter. She would like to write, which is forbidden, and . . . Read More
Since Joyce Carol Oates’s phenomenal appearance on the literary scene in the mid-1960s, she has certainly been one of America’s most prolific and talked-about writers. The author of more than twenty novels and numerous volumes of short stories, poems, plays, and essays, she has drawn the attention of readers and critics alike. Whatever one’s opinion of Oates’s work may be, it is not possible to ignore her importance as a writer, particularly one who chronicles life in twentieth-century America. Gates has been compared to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Honore de Balzac, and William Faulkner for her efforts to portray an entire culture of people. It is not surprising that she has been compared to these greats, for Oates also tries to explain some of the mysteries of life, believing that a”writer’s job, ideally, is to act as the conscience of his race.”
In her essays on D.H. Lawrence and W.B. Yeats, Oates has expressed her interest in . . . Read More
The Women’s Movement
Interest in women’s equal rights was a subject of great controversy during the early years of Oates’s career leading up to “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” The 1960s and early 1970s marked the escalation of the women’s movement. Economic shifts meant that more women worked outside the home, and Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, resulting in many political battles during the long ratification process, which it ultimately failed. Many men and women reconsidered the traditional balance of power in their relationships, families, and the workplace. The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, which made it illegal to pay men and women different wages for the same work. In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that a woman’s right to privacy allowed for legal abortion in the first trimester of a pregnancy.
Although relations between the sexes had been a . . . Read More
Point of View
The first line of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”—”Her name was Connie “— signals that it is being told by a third-person narrator. This narrative voice stays closely aligned to Connie’s point of view. The reader learns what her thoughts are, but the narrator provides no additional information or judgment of the situation. For instance, Connie’s harsh appraisals of her sister and mother are discussed: “now [her mother’s] looks were gone and that was why she was always after Connie,” but it is clear that this assessment is Connie’s and not the narrator’s.
Observing the story’s events through a narrator who presents things as Connie sees them allows the reader to identify with her terror as she is transformed from a flirt into a victim. Arnold Friend is presented only as he appears to Connie; the reader learns nothing of his unspoken . . . Read More
The tale of an insecure, romantic teenage girl drawn into a situation of foreboding violence,”Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” presents several themes that arise from the interaction of sharply drawn characters engaged in psychological manipulation.
Appearances and Reality
Connie prides herself as a skilled flirt who has never been in a situation she could not handle. She feels confident when Arnold Friend arrives at her door while she is alone in the house: “Who the hell do you think you are?” she asks. Mistaking him for the type of boy she frequently attracts, she thinks she recognizes him from the sound of his car’s horn, his clothing and physical appearance, and the line of banter with which he attempts to lure her into his car. Both Arnold and Connie contribute to these erroneous first impressions. Arnold assumes a role as a teenage Romeo although he is much older, and Connie accepts his . . . Read More
Fifteen-year-old Connie exhibits the confusing, often superficial behavior typical of a teenage girl facing the difficult transition from girlhood to womanhood. She is rebellious, vain, self-centered, and deceitful. She is caught between her roles as a daughter, friend, sister, and object of sexual desire, uncertain of which one represents the real her: “Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home.” She is deeply romantic, as shown by her awareness of popular song lyrics, but she is interested more in the concept of having a boyfriend than the boyfriend himself. She sees the boys who exhibit interest in her primarily as conquests who “dissolved into a single face that was not even a face but an idea.” All of these traits make her vulnerable to Arnold Friend’s manipulation. At first she is flattered by his attentions, unable to realize that he is in fact a . . . Read More
Connie is a fifteen-year-old teenager growing up in suburbia in the 1960s. She is preoccupied with typical teenage concerns: her looks and popular music. She argues with her mother, makes fun of her older, plainer sister, and hangs out with her friends in restaurants, movie theaters, and shopping malls. During these summertime social ventures, she and her friends try to attract the attention of the older high-school boys. One evening, while on a date, Connie notices a boy with black hair and a gold “jalopy”—a beat-up sports car—staring at her.
One Sunday while her parents and sister attend a family barbecue, Connie, contemptuous of family gatherings, elects to stay home and wash her hair. As she sits in the backyard letting her hair dry, she thinks about the boy she had been with the night before. Later, while listening to the radio inside the house, she hears a car coming up the driveway. Thinking that her family would not be home so soon, she goes to . . . Read More
Doris Lessing is known for being a writer whose work affects people. She tackles political issues but refuses to limit herself to being a political writer, and is equally acclaimed for her essays, fiction, and even science fiction dealing with interests ranging from nature to the status of women. “Through the Tunnel,” which is ultimately a story about a boy growing up, seems at first glance to stand apart from her usual concerns.
Lessing was born in what is now Iran in 1919 to a German father and British mother, and then moved with her family to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1924. She embraced Communism and immigrated to England in 1949. Then she returned to Africa in 1956, but was labelled a “prohibited immigrant” because of her political views, and returned to England shortly thereafter. She then quit the Communist Party in protest of Stalin’s atrocities.
Just as Lessing has divided her time between living in England . . . Read More
“Through the Tunnel” was first published by the New Yorker magazine in 1955. Lessing had moved from British-controlled Rhodesia in South Africa in 1949. Six years later, little had changed. Apartheid, a legal system of racial segregation structured every aspect of life for both black and white people there, and racism exploded violently in the United States, Europe and many other parts of the globe. White tourists like those in the story were able to afford vacations, while the native black population of many countries, victims of racist economic exploitation, could generally never afford to take such vacations.
In the context of this racist structure, the interaction between Jerry and the “smooth dark brown” boys takes on greater significance. Jerry is bested by “natives,” an event that contradicts the entire structure of colonial racist supremacy. The British and French, among other nations, justified their colonization of Africa . . . Read More