I would like to know how Gilman uses irony—both dramatic and situational irony—in order to explore the oppressive nature of gender roles in the Victorian Era in "The Yellow Wallpaper." I'm looking...
I would like to know how Gilman uses irony—both dramatic and situational irony—in order to explore the oppressive nature of gender roles in the Victorian Era in "The Yellow Wallpaper." I'm looking for both quotes and analysis on how exactly Gilman uses it to push the narrative of unequal gender roles forward.
Situational irony occurs when a situation or outcome is different from what a character (or characters) in a work of literature think it is or will be. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows what a character or characters do not know. (There is also verbal irony, in which words or utterances mean the opposite of their literal meaning.)
As you note, Gilman uses irony to comment on the oppressive nature of gender roles in Victorian society. In a nutshell, the main situational irony in the story is that the treatment the men think is the cure for the narrator's mental problems actually makes her far sicker. A second situational irony underlying this is the assumption that male wisdom and expertise is superior to female: that the men in question know better what the woman needs than she does.
Dramatic irony occurs as the audience becomes aware that the narrator is descending into psychosis while she does not.
Some ironic quotes would be as follows. The narrator says of her husband John, a physican, that he:
is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.
Of course, this "practical" nature is exactly the problem: this is precisely the irony of the situation. John's seemingly rational "strengths" are really limitations.
The irony of the situation is underscored again as the narrator suggests what really is the solution to her problems but which is rejected by the patriarchs with power:
Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.
She says "I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes." The irony is that her anger is not unreasonable, given that her real needs are entirely ignored. She says too:
John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.
Ironically, his short-sighted focus on reason is the core problem. Gilman makes that point again in a slightly different way when the narrator states the following:
It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so.
The irony of John's wisdom and so-called love is that they are destroying the narrator.
As for dramatic irony, the narrator becomes increasingly fixated on the wallpaper as she decomposes:
I'm feeling ever so much better! I don't sleep much at night, for it is so interesting to watch developments, but I sleep a good deal in the daytime. In the daytime it is tiresome and perplexing. There are always new shoots on the fungus, and new shades of yellow all over it. I cannot keep count of them, though I have tried conscientiously.
The dramatic irony is that we as an audience know her statement of feeling better, her being up by night and sleeping by day, and her fixation on the wallpaper are all signs of her mental deterioration, not her improvement.
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