Compare the theme of alienation in "Araby" and "The Yellow Wallpaper" where the causes of both narrators' alienation are their physical locations and psychological feelings, and the source of those...

Compare the theme of alienation in "Araby" and "The Yellow Wallpaper" where the causes of both narrators' alienation are their physical locations and psychological feelings, and the source of those is that both main characters lack control over their lives.

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liesljohnson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since this assignment has some complexity to it, I want to show you not just the response but also my process in understanding the assignment and then completing it.

To restate the issue, we're considering the boy in "Araby" and the woman in "The Yellow Wallpaper." For each, we're thinking that:

1. They lack control over their own lives. (Another way to say this is that they don't have agency.) -->

2. So, they aren't necessarily living where they want to live, plus they suffer psychologically. -->

3. The end result is a feeling of alienation.

If we needed to put this in a concise thesis statement, we could rewrite the topic: "Due to a lack of agency, both narrators live in unsuitable places and suffer psychologically, which ultimately leads to their profound alienation."

To dig into this topic, all we need to do is find support for each of these three statements. (It's a safe assumption that we will find that support, since this topic sounds like it was assigned by an instructor, but if for some reason we didn't find the support then we would need to reject the idea or part of it and show why.) Along the way, we should discover some connections between the boy and the woman.

Here we go!

1. Support for the idea that both narrators lack control over their own lives:

The boy in "Araby" is trapped in his small, intensely religious town. He has to go to school, he has to live in his tiny house, and he has to follow his family's rules. If he wants to go anywhere at all, like to the bazaar, he has to beg his aunt and uncle and somehow scrape up the money it takes to get there. He is not in charge of his own life.

The woman in "The Yellow Wallpaper" is held prisoner in the grand house for the summer vacation. There are bars on her windows. Her husband tells her what to do. He's her doctor, too, and he acts like her depression and anxiety are no big deal and that she is ridiculous for thinking otherwise. She wants to work, and write, and he doesn't let her (because he wants her to rest and get better). In sum, she has zero control over her own life.

If you gave either of these narrators a chance to go somewhere else, they'd probably take it. The boy would like to live somewhere with more freedom; the woman would like to be somewhere where she can interact with others and find interesting things to do instead of staring at the wallpaper and going insane. In a sense, both narrators are children: the boy truly is, and the woman is treated as such. She's even staying in an actual nursery room.

2. A. Support for the idea that both narrators aren't necessarily living where they want to live:

Interestingly, this idea was tied so closely to item 1 above that we've already covered it!

2. B. Support for the idea that both narrators suffer psychologically:

Look at the way the boy in "Araby" tortures himself with thoughts of his crush, and how stressed he gets when he thinks he won't make it to the bazaar in time to get a present for her. Look at how dejected he feels when he can't afford anything at the bazaar. At the end, his pain is almost too intense to be expressed in words:

"Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger."

The woman in "The Yellow Wallpaper" narrates her story with considerably more cheer and hope than the boy does, but she suffers even more intensely. Here she is, acting like a crazed rat in a cage and having hideous hallucinations, just before she goes 100% insane:

"I tried to lift and push it until I was lame, and then I got so angry I bit off a little piece at one corner—but it hurt my teeth. Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly and the pattern just enjoys it! All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision! I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try."

3. Support for the idea that both narrators experience a sense of alienation:

By this time the alienation of both narrators is pretty clear. The boy in "Araby" ends his story in the darkness, having embarked on a "useless" errand, staring up at the sky and feeling not even human (like a "creature" instead). The woman in "The Yellow Wallpaper" looks at distant people from the window, fears the opposition she'll encounter if she tries to express herself in writing, and ultimately makes a break from sanity. The alienation that both characters feel is real and pervasive.

Read the study guide:
Araby

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