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How does the narrator limit her intelligence in "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

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happy99 | Student, College Freshman | Salutatorian

Posted August 1, 2013 at 1:01 AM via web

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How does the narrator limit her intelligence in "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 1, 2013 at 5:11 AM (Answer #2)

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All of the narrator's energies become focused upon the wallpaper. Whereas the mention of the paper is, at first, merely as part of the description of the room in which she is confined for her rest, later the thought and analysis of the wallpaper supersedes any other consideration. Other aesthetic ventures, such as writing or viewing from the window the bay and a little private wharf, as well as a shaded lane are soon reduced in the narrator's obsession with the wallpaper. 

Soon, the narrator attributes emotion to the persons she imagines behind this wallpaper:

This paper looks to me as if it knew what a vicious influence it had!...I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere....I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before....

Further, the narrator envisions the wallpaper as something against her personally. For, she sees herself trapped behind the bars of the wallpaper. Then, the narrator becomes possessive of the wallpaper: ..."nobody shall find it out but myself." 

However, the wallpaper takes over the narrator's senses. For one thing, the narrator experiences synesthetic perception as she explains that she has detected from the wallpaper "a yellow smell." And, the narrator feels that the paper moves as the woman behind the bars "shakes them hard."

Finally, the narrator blurs the lines between reality and imagination as she thinks "that woman gets out in the daytime!" "That woman" is the narrator herself as she ponders later on, "I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?" One day when John enters the nursery, the narrator asks, "Now why should that man have fainted?" She has told him, on her hands and knees, that she has escaped from behind the wallpaper.

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akannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 1, 2013 at 1:36 AM (Answer #1)

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It is evident that the narrator limits her intelligence in her fixation on the wallpaper.  She spends all of her intellectual energies on what the wallpaper means and how the figures in the wallpaper are jumping out at her.  The distractions that she finds in the wallpaper and its designs limit her intelligence.

However, this condition is not brought on by her own volition.  The narrator wants to write, wants to talk, and at the very least, find a new part of the house to frequent.  Yet, John, her husband, forbids all of this.  He is insistent that she "rest," which is synonymous with a form of imprisonment.  The narrator does not really limit her intelligence as much as it is limited for her.  The patronizing and patriarchal way in which the narrator's intelligence is limited is seen in how the husband calls her "his little goose" and "little girl."  In such characterizations, the narrator's intelligence is limited for her.  She does not really have much of a choice in this condition.  The author's intent is to depict a condition of being a woman in which one's options for intellectual inquiry are limited in the name of "rest" and domestic responsibilities where such inquiry are not actively encouraged.

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