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How does the syntax and diction of "The Yellow Wallpaper" depict the slowly...

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brucewayne21 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 20, 2012 at 8:25 PM via web

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How does the syntax and diction of "The Yellow Wallpaper" depict the slowly deteriorating sanity of the narrator?

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 20, 2012 at 10:26 PM (Answer #1)

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As the narrator begins to deteriorate, so does her syntax.  Her diction also reveals a troubled mind.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” tells the story of a woman who slowly begins to lose her mind because she had been confined to a room.  Notice that a first person narrator is used.  This allows us to make the journey with her, and makes the text more personal and the deterioration more pronounced.

First, let me review syntax and diction.  Syntax is the way the sentences are structured.  Does the authors use simple sentences, fragments, or complex sentences?   How are these juxtaposed to create meaning?   

Compare the sentence structure at the beginning and the end of the story.  In the beginning of the story, the sentences contain long lists of clauses and playful punctuation.

John is a physician, and perhaps -- (I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind) -- perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. (p. 1)

The little aside in parenthesis is not mocking or insane.  It is humorous more than anything.  The repetition of perhaps and the use of the breaks also allows for pause.

Notice that the sentences are long and winding.  They take a while to get to the point.  Then look at some at the end.

I want to astonish him.

I've got a rope up here that even Jennie did not find. If that woman does get out, and tries to get away, I can tie her!

But I forgot I could not reach far without anything to stand on!

This bed will not move! (p. 9)

Wow!  There are a lot of exclamation points here.  The short, choppy sentences make the reader see fear and paranoia.  This hardly seems like the slow flow of the sentences in the beginning of the narration.

Diction is an author’s word choice.  Authors don’t just randomly choose words.  Look for the words that stand out, and look for a comparison in diction from the beginning to the end of the story.  Look at how she describes the house in the beginning of the story.

A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity -- but that would be asking too much of fate! (p. 1, emphasis added)

These words demonstrate joy and wonder, not pain.  Consider, by contrast, her word choice at the end.

I don't like to look out of the windows even -- there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. (p. 10, bold emphasis added)

There is an emphasis on “look,” which is already in italics. Here the word “creep” is repeated.  There are other disturbing words.  The reader feels the narrator’s state of panic.  She is never given a name!  If she was given a name, she would be more humanized.

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