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Similarities in Theme in the Two Stories
Prisoners: Both of these stories place the characters in a kind of prison. On the first page of Yellow Wallpaper the narrator has already explained that the reason she doesn't get well is because of her husband. An irony of huge magnitude, to say that one's husband is a physician and that "perhaps" that is the reason "I do not get well faster" (3). But then, she adds, this is "a dead paper and a great relief to my mind." How can a doctor (whether one's husband or not) possible cure a patient if the doctor doesn't believe the patient is ill? She is imprisoned by the wrongful prognosis of her husband. And she cannot be bailed out from this veritable jail cell she is in because she has "schedule prescription for each hour in the day." This imprisonment does not suit her, and yet she is so beholden to John, her husband, the authority figure (and the judge and jailer) she feels "…basely ungrateful not to value it more" (5).
She writes (4) that she is "absolutely forbidden to 'work' until" she is healthy again. This is placing her in confinement, keeping her from enjoying her life as she envisions it. She is even prohibited from thinking about writing, which is her skill. But "…John says the very worst think I can do is think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad" (4). She has been placed in a no-win situation, removed from the things she enjoys (writing), but she meekly accepts the sentence that has been delivered by the "judge" -- her doctor husband, and her doctor brother, who is by the way "…also of high standing" and agrees with her husband that she should be confined to her bed (4).
The narrator is stuck in a room with that hideous yellow wallpaper, yes, but moreover it is a room with actual bars on the windows. Probably those bars were intended to prevent children from falling out of the window, she surmises; and the wallpaper is so bad, its "sprawling, flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin" (5). She wanted to be placed where she could see the piazza and the roses by looking out the window, but no, John has her in an upstairs room with bars on the windows. The symbolism is powerful in this respect; readers clearly realize the author is creating a theme of incarceration, captivity, and melancholy.
John the doctor husband had said at first that he would install new wallpaper, but later changed his mind saying "nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies" ("fancies" here is ironic as well since ugliness in a room is a terrible fate for any woman, and to minimize her desire for beauty, one of the hallmarks of being a woman, is cruel). And John advances his prison warden mentality by rationalizing the reasons that he would not go along with new wallpaper in this prison cell; namely, once she was able to talk him into fresh inviting wallpaper, the next thing she would want would be a "heavy bedstead, and then the [removal of the] barred windows…" and more (6).
She is captured like a frightened bird in a cage by the meanness of being isolated in this ugly room; she begins believing that the wallpaper comes alive with demons. "I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before…up and down and sideways they crawl, and those unblinking eyes are everywhere" (7).
Prisoners: The soldiers are most certainly prisoners in a maddening drama they cannot extract themselves from. Far away from loved ones, locked into a battle they didn't start and one they cannot win, even using a flashlight to escape the prison of war's uncompromising darkness can bring death, as readers discover on 2396. "He remembered switching on his flashlight. A stupid thing to do, but he did it anyway" -- and he did it in order to show Kiowa the photo of his girlfriend, a cute girl who represented the symbol of freedom from the swamp and the killing. And boom, the flashlight, that brief view of a pretty girl, an escape from the drudgery and misery, allowed the enemy to know where they were located and hence, Kiowa was killed.
"…The field seemed to suck him under, and everything was black and wet and swirling" (2396) (a frightful imprisonment). There was no escaping this horror, this prison of madness. Lieutenant Cross was not only literally stuck in the violence of the war; he was stuck in the stinking slush of the craters from the mortar rounds and stuck in the chain of command because he was wearing that silver bar indicating his authority, which he was obliged to use albeit he never asked for this authority. The rounds were "spraying up great showers of filth… [And] they collapsed on themselves and filled up…sucking things down, swallowing things, weapons and entrenching tools and belts of ammunition…" (2395).
The young soldier who was mourning the loss of Kiowa was "…trying hard not to cry" -- and he caught Lieutenant Cross's attention because the boy was "bent forward at the waist" and "seemed to be chasing some creature just beyond reach, something elusive, a fish or a frog" (2395). What the author is presenting here is the portrait of a young boy trying to find his way out of this tragic mud-splattered death scene. The boy was talking, O'Brien writes, and in a way "…explaining things to an absent judge" (2395). That "absent judge" if he were real might rule Cross and his men innocent of being responsible for Kiowa's death, but that judge would have a hard time releasing the men from the prison of their military obligation, albeit the insanity of this war and the unrelenting rain and misery were like the bars on the windows in The Yellow Wallpaper. While the young soldier was trying hard "not to cry" in the war, the protagonist in the Yellow Wallpaper cries at "nothing" and she cries "most of the time" (9).…[continue]
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