Comparing How The Yellow Wallpaper and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Address American Identity

American literature was established upon strong suitables rooted in individualism, and as an outcome, numerous stories are composed with the concept of “what does it mean to be an American?” Both Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” attend to the principle on what it indicates to be an American, based on their own lives and perceptions of the world they lived in. They both concentrate on fragmented protagonists that engage in escapist altercations to their truths to illustrate how they cope with sensations of powerlessness or impotence while being psychologically and emotionally quelched by their spouses. However, where the 2 stories vary is in what kind of “American” the protagonists imagine and how they view their functions in their greater societies. In the case of “The Yellow Wallpaper” the narrator is attempting to reject the concept of the excellent “American woman” and her nightmares stand-in for the repressive world around her whereas Walter Mitty in his story dives into his idealized dreams and fantasies so that he might try to end up being the ideal “American guy.”

Both “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” rely on dreams to demonstrate how their lead characters see themselves, based on how Gilman and Thurber’s saw themselves as Americans and whether they fit the expectation of such a title or not. Gilman composed in a short article of her magazine The Forerunner in 1913 that she composed “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a reaction to the treatment of herself by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, who prescribed to her the exact same “rest cure” that her lead character goes through (Gilman, 1). While under this treatment, Gilman found herself freaking, and after a quick recovery she wrote the story, wanting to save other women from such a fate. Gilman in this essay says that writing “The Yellow Wallpaper” made her feel “the normal life of every human being … which is happiness and development and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite– ultimately recovering some measure of power.” (Gilman, 1). In this passage, Gilman reveals that she views the function of an American individual of every part of the world, to be one of personal betterment and working towards the growth of the world they reside in. By not working or improving herself, Gilman felt less than human.

These sensations are at the leading edge of every page of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is desperate to express herself, but finds herself not able to do so due to her self-important spouse. The storyteller remains in a clearly unhappy marriage yet she still selects to preserve a façade of ideal happiness and stability in order to fit into the society she so desperately wishes to belong of. She describes herself and her partner, John, as “mere common people” in the opening of the story, despite that not holding true at all as, besides her numerous psychological issues, they are also revealed as individuals of reasonably high wealth, as they have the ability to afford to stay in such a great trip house with numerous servants (Gilman, 1). The storyteller is sent out to reside in isolation as a method for her to recuperate from her health problem, however it ends up worsening due to her severe sensory deprivation. This causes her to pull away from her sterile truth into her mind. The secret to her escapism is within the ordinary environment around her, an otherwise plain wallpaper that covers her space. She is so desperate for some sort of sensation in her life that she sublimates all of these desires into the very environment that is suppressing her. This leads to various circumstances of oxymoron such as how she claims she “never ever saw a lot expression in an inanimate thing before” (Gilman, 4). Eventually, the narrator is consumed by her fantasies, and she is lowered physically and psychologically into a more prehistoric being creeping all over the space. Due to her reality providing nothing, the storytellers totally checked out, choosing that turning on nightmare is worthier of living than dull truth.

Just as “The Yellow Wallpaper” was based on Gilman’s own life and insecurities in how she felt as an American citizen, James Thurber utilizes “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” to forecast his own being. Neurologist V.S. Ramachandran diagnosed James Thurber with Charles Bonnet syndrome, which is a neurological condition that triggers the client to have bizarre hallucinations. This parallels Walter Mitty as he routinely takes a look at of reality in what might be thought about hallucinations. Thurber himself did not see this as an impairment. In his essay The Admiral on the Wheel, Thurber explains himself as having “two-fifths vision” when he does not wear his glasses, and he explains of all the wonderful and strange things he sees, guaranteeing that with the way he sees the world, no matter what, he’ll have “an exceptional time.” (Thurber, 2). By reading this self-reflection, one can think of that Walter Mitty’s musings are indicated to be read as exceptional and wondrous. While Walter Mitty’s dreams are precariously unrealistic, maybe Thurber is wanting to show the reader the power of one’s creativity and idealist pursuits in retaliation to their mundane and overbearing world.

The story of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” bears resemblances to “The Yellow Wallpaper” worth noting: Both are about unhappy and unstable Americans trapped in mundane lives who are under the outright control of their spouse, and their dreams are an effort to compensate. The story being dominated by his dreams is plainly shown from the really first line, which opens with an action-packed dream Walter is having. This is substantial in showing that Walter is prioritizing his dream life above his truth, where he can forecast as much as possible. Walter Mitty, like the “Yellow Wallpaper” storyteller, is helpless to his partner, in this story being Mrs. Mitty. Mrs. Mitty is constantly bringing Walter out of his mind and quelching him in his life. When Walter is snapped out of his initial dream, he sees his partner as “grossly unknown, like a weird lady who had chewed out him in a crowd.” (Thurber). This highlights a clear detach in between the 2 partners, which is an idea likewise expressed in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and the two are making a statement about the battles of the American couple. Later in the story, Walter Mitty tries to withstand Mrs. Mitty after she gets him out of among his wartime fantasies. Walter asks her if she realizes that he in some cases thinks, that is, he is his own conscious individual who can make his own decisions. She is not expecting this and associates it to a bout of health problem, saying that she will take his temperature later on. Mrs. Mitty here is practically a genderbent John from “The Yellow Wallpaper” as both spouses utterly neglect the mindset and feelings of their partners, associating any trace of expressed life as some sort of medical condition.

While both “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” handle the idea of being an American from the eyes of their particular authors illustrated through fantasies, they differ in how they align with being an American, reflected in the nature of their dreams, which result in significantly different conclusions. “The Yellow Wallpaper” analyzes what it implies to be an American female relative to Gilman’s pre-women’s rights era, and through the narrator’s horrifying nightmares which trap her in this perfect, Gilman is opposing such a principle. When it comes to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Thurber is describing a perfect American male figure relative to his World War II age, who utilizes empowering dreams for him to reach his perfect.

The moral of “The Yellow Wallpaper” ends up being clear when one comprehends this and is exhibited in her stand-in in the kind of the storyteller and how her nightmares reflect her world as well as impact her viewing of it. Regardless of being plainly based on herself, Gilman selects to keep the storyteller nameless due to the fact that she believes this story can apply to any woman in the country, and she prides herself in the post “Why I Composed The Yellow Wallpaper”, to her understanding, “conserved one female from a comparable fate– so terrifying her household that they let her out into regular activity and she recovered.” (Gilman, 1). The story is a stark criticism of more than simply the “rest cure,” it is one against any type of medication and prescription that ignores the patient’s mindset and rather deals with the client as a tool to practice one’s treatment abilities. While they may imply well, the authority of the medical institution and their higher standing in society often leads to the mistreatment of patients and intensifying of their conditions due to neglecting vital elements of emotion, argues Gilman. Through John’s self-assured authority and knowledge, the narrator is totally misinterpreted as ill, and the very acts attempting to “cure” her result in actually driving her mad. This is a hyperbolic statement on how Victorian lady saw themselves in rigid marital relationships. While the story is infuriating and over the top, Gilman insists in her article that “it was not meant to drive people insane, however to save people from being driven crazy” (Gilman, 1) by giving a voice to the voiceless and warning those who lead such organizations about what can take place when their power and authority goes untreated. And, according to Gilman, it was successful.

Gilman crafts an innately womanly story with “The Yellow Wallpaper” about womanhood and the feeling of injustice felt by females during her time. The storyteller is constantly controlled by her partner, who is also her medical professional. Here, John represents how two institutions, medical and marriage, are linked in keeping the storyteller from being what she wants to be and restricting her ability to reveal and lead her own life. John sis, Jennie, is seen by the narrator as a “ideal and passionate housekeeper, and expects no much better profession” (Gilman, 4). Jennie is an example of an ideal American female according to Gilman’s time. She is enthusiastic about her restricted pursuits and does not desire for anything else. While there is nothing inherently incorrect with being comfortable with one’s life and profession, this works versus the storyteller as she firmly insists that Jennie would think that the storyteller being an author is what made her sick. This shows the mindset women had at the time, how to not act “womanly” as anticipated of one implies that they are, to use an Atwoodian term, “unwoman.”

Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” informs the reader of one male’s concept of what an American man resembles while likewise showing how American society affects stated American man. The story was published throughout a significant paradigm shift in not only the United States, however the world as a whole in the type of World War II. Walter Mitty is an inefficient male in a world that is calling for the strength of excellent men to protect their ways of life. For Walter, though, there is absolutely nothing to maintain. Mitty is a poor motorist in his truth, but in his dreams, he is a remarkable and daring pilot, and he acquires the regard of the other men around him, while in his waking life, he is nagged around by his other half and mocked by other men. Walter is likewise described as old, and his better half assures him that he is “not a boy any longer” (Thurber) which could describe why he appears to have such a bad memory issue and lack of motor abilities, yet in his dreams, he has none of these negative qualities of age, which reveals that, regardless of his failing mind and body, Walter is still able to see himself as a strong able-bodied and minded guy. Thurber could be making a declaration here trying to connect to males who might stay on the home front, either due to the fact that they do not wish to combat or they are too old and weak to do so, that they are no less of a man as those who are those bold pilots in the war. Walter might not actually be a fantastic guy, but he views himself as one nevertheless thanks to his dreams.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” sees the titular lead character engage in numerous daydreams of what an American male must resemble, and while celebrating the ideal, Mitty himself is powerless and emasculated, being a male unable to measure up to the expectations held of him. Each of these dreams expresses the desires Walter longs for rather than “Yellow Wallpaper” in which nightmares express what the storyteller is afraid of. The merged idea present within Walter Mitty’s dreams is one concerning masculinity, with Walter sensation emasculated by his aimless life and commanding better half. In his dreams, Walter is a strong hero reflecting what he wants to be as a guy. He is commanding, cool, and charming, while in reality he is absolutely none of these qualities. As he makes his dreams so heavy on masculinity, it appears that his dreams weaken femininity. Women in his dreams are nearly absent and when there are women, they are just referred to as “quite,” such being the case of the nurse in his operation dream. This is to compensate for any femininity that Mitty himself may possess, as he appears weak and indecisive in his everyday life by allowing his spouse to have control, and this acts as an example of how Mitty wants to be a manly figure who is able to garner the attention of an appealing mate. This feeling of perfect masculinity ultimately permeates to the very end of the story, and obviously seeps into Mitty’s reality. His last dream is a plain contrast from the rest. While the others are about him being put in daring and brave scenarios, his final dream is of him about to be executed by a firing squad. This can be interpreted in many ways, however something that is interest of note is what Walter Mitty states in reaction to the firing team, “To hell with the handkerchief” (Thurber). The handkerchief in question describes the custom of putting a handkerchief over a person’s eyes when they’re about to be carried out, in an effort to lessen the discomfort and fear. Walter turns down the scarf, offering to pass away as he wanted to live, like a man. This scarf can also be associated with Walter’s dreams. He engages in his fantasies to escape the discomfort he feels in his waking life, and now he is choosing he does not need them any longer. His last dream in the story being shot down by a firing squad, for that reason, can be analyzed as Walter Mitty killing off his dream self, choosing to live only in his reality without the conveniences of the scarf. While there is no epilogue or appropriate closure, his short but still poignant rebellion at his other half when he firmly insists that he is a thinking individual coupled with this forsaking of the scarf and dream death permits one to think of a reborn Walter, a combination of his pragmatic genuine self and his idealized dream self. Unlike “The Yellow Wallpaper” Walter Mitty emerges triumphant and, in the words of Thurber, “Unbeaten, inscrutable to the last” (Thurber).

The 2 stories mainly owe their success to how their respective authors develop their protagonists as signs of ideal American life through how their endeavors into their own respective psyches illustrate how they view themselves. Their common measures for highlighting this is by highlighting how they leave from their ordinary reality and authoritarian marital relationship into dream. The ground for contrast in these stories is how they translate being a good American and how their protagonists respond to that idea. When it comes to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the storyteller is trying to decline the standard perfects of the American lady as her hubby imposes them, which leads to her leaving into her problems and psychologically deteriorating away. In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Walter wants to be in touch with that perfect notion of the strong American male, while his partner tries to snap him back into his average existence, and when Walter begins to wake up in his life, he exterminates his dream self, providing a conclusion which could suggest that he is prepared to accept his real life, having actually grown more courageous thanks to his dreams.

Works Pointed out

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (January 1892). “The Yellow Wall-paper. A Story”. The New England Magazine. 11 (5 ).

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper.” Forerunner. Oct. 1913.

Thurber, James. “The Admiral on the Wheel” The New Yorker. Feb. 1, 1936.

Thurber, James. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” The New Yorker. Mar. 18, 1939.

V.S. Ramachandran; Sandra Blakeslee (1988 ). Phantoms in the Brain. HarperCollins. pp. 85– 7.

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