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Consider the significance of dialect in the analysis of voice in the story "The Yellow...

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trang5891 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

Posted November 6, 2012 at 5:44 PM via web

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Consider the significance of dialect in the analysis of voice in the story "The Yellow Wallpaper"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 6, 2012 at 7:31 PM (Answer #1)

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 With the definition of dialect being "A variation of a given language spoken in a particular place or by a particular group of people" as defined by linguist Laura K. Lawless, the unnamed narrator of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" indicates different aspects of her personality.

  • Repression

As a woman in the Victorian Age who is the virtual property of her husband, the narrator has no real voice of her own regarding her treatment.  When she speaks of her condition, therefore, she loses her own voice and mimics that which is used by Dr. Weir Mitchell and her husband John. For, in her subservient position, the narrator repeats what she is told about herself,

If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter...but temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency--what is one to do?

In addition to her acceptance of her condition being called "nervous depression" and "slight hysterical tendency," the phrase, "what is one to do?" is recurrent throughout her narrative, a phrase that indicates her feeling of helplessness. Later, she tries to convince herself that her feelings are only "nervousness":

Of course, it is only nervousness.  it does weigh on me...I am a comparative burden already.

Further, she is even more self-effacing, declaring, "I feel basely ungrateful."

  • Creative spirit

Despite her self-deprecating language in alluding to her condition, the narrator uses a much more powerful and assertive dialect in her discussion of those things that relate to the aesthetic:

"This is a delicious garden."

...the wallpaper is a flamboyant pattern [of] outrageous angles" [its color is] repellent...revolting

atrocious nursery

  • Insanity

With her imagination thwarted, the narrator breaks and her voice reflects her terror and instability. For instance, her now unstable imagination views the wallpaper as animate:

...the impertinence of it...those absurd, unblinking eyes

Later, it is as though another voice enters her as she adopts antiquated language, using the Middle English "sticketh," suggestive of the biblical writings.  Then, as she sinks further into insanity, her language becomes simplified--short, choppy sentences are used with more elementary words such as "simple," "the bedstead is ...gnawed."

Finally, the narrator assumes a surety born of her total submersion into insanity:

But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way.

Clearly, dislect is an important key to the characterization of Gilman's unnamed narrator.

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