dis/lit

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Archive for the ‘madness’ tag

Robert’s Formal Blog Post on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”

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John 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. 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. You see he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do? If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression — a slight hysterical tendency — what is one to do?  My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing. So I take phosphates or phosphites — whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?

In this passage, our unnamed female narrator confides to us the mute isolation of her suffering. That the narrator is nameless fits well with this dehumanizing theme; just as her husband does not validate her claims that she is sick, her existence and value as a human is not validated with a name. John, her husband and her doctor, fails to comprehend the true experience of her “nervous troubles.” He prescribes “phosphates or phosphites…and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise” and she is “absolutely forbidden to do work” (Section 1). Here is quite a good representation of the paternalistic medical model of disability; disability is something to be controlled and to be cured and John’s wife is someone to be controlled and treated. Her opinions are ignored because she both a patient and a woman.

The medical and paternalistic models of disability are outdated, ineffective, and dehumanizing. John, who has “no patience with faith” and who “scoffs openly at things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures,” reduces his wife to a concept and a set of technical symptoms and treatments. These broken models end up worsening her illness and failing outright; she admits herself that “John is a physician and perhapsperhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.” In many instances, doctors simply treat a patient’s symptoms and not the cause of their distress. The medical model, after all, is fueled by materialism and money.

John’s medicinal paternalism also prevents his wife from expressing her solution to her illness. She says that she believes “congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?” (Section 1). She tries to express what she knows will help her; because she is both a patient and a woman, though, her ideas are immediately dismissed. Disability has isolated her, subjected her to her husband’s control, and stripped her of her power and autonomy. She is, in a way, the madwoman in the attic.

She is disempowered by John’s medicinal and cure-oriented mindset and his unyielding paternalism. Ironically, if not appropriately, John’s power fails to prevent his wife’s complete progression into her disability/madness. Here is the oppressive failure of the medical and paternalistic models of disability perfectly personified.

What is one to do?

Written by Robert

September 28th, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Allison Miller’s Formal Post on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Part 2)

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 My father was enraptured on finding me freed from the vexations of a criminal charge, that I was again allowed to breathe the fresh atmosphere and permitted to return to my native country. I did not participate in these feelings, for to me the walls of a dungeon or a palace were alike hateful. The cup of life was poisoned forever, and although the sun shone upon me, as upon the happy and gay of heart, I saw around me nothing but a dense and frightful darkness, penetrated by no light but the glimmer of two eyes that glared upon me. Sometimes they were the expressive eyes of Henry, languishing in death, the dark orbs nearly covered by the lids and the long black lashes that fringed them; sometimes it was the watery, clouded eyes of the monster, as I first saw, them in my chamber at Ingolstadt. (Shelley, 162-163)

What is interesting about this passage is Victor’s perception of the world after Henry’s death. Notice how he said life was now poisoned. Before his creation, his life was happy, content, ambitious. To him, the world (especially Geneva, his home) was pure. After Henry’s death, everything, including the good memories, blended into the same thing; hate. Everything becomes tainted because of the Monster’s crimes, which represents disability as a disease spreading everywhere, that for Victor, the world could never be the same. Victor hated the world because he could not escape his creation, and the disease. When he realized that nothing could be the same, Victor slowly degraded himself by creating  a mental prison and suffered when each person he loves died. He always confined himself  to think which for him is quite dangerous because thinking too much is the factor that degraded him.

What’s really interesting are the pairs of eyes he saw sometimes in his mind, either of Henry’s corpse, or the Monster himself.  The eyes are a powerful tool because they are used to stare or gaze. Once a person gazes at someone else, that person being gazed at becomes the object of speculation. In this case, Victor becomes the object of speculation. When he thought Henry looked at him from his “mental prison,” Victor felt guilt and horror. He believed that he killed his friends by the Monster’s hands, and when he didn’t tell anyone of his crime, his sanity faded, therefore creating a mental prison. The other way in which Victor becames mad is the Monster’s eyes. He hated those eyes, but at the same time, the monster switched roles, becoming the master, while Victor was his slave. To me, Victor was more like a mental patient in his “mental prison” while the Monster had the power to torture him, and degrade him even more.

When one noticed  the Monster’s disability, they noticed that the Monster killed people because of his environment (society excluded him because of his deformity). What he can’t have (love from society), he can take away from others, and that is what he did to Victor. I’d like to think of it as a mental institution torture that Victor endured, because he had friends and families he loved. His family comforted him, which helped him hold on to hope as well as sanity. However, once the Monster murdered his friends and family, he proved that he had to power to take away hope and sanity. Victor was then left alone in isolation where his thoughts were his only comfort. When Victor thought the Monster looked at him, he got angry, but fearful. During this time, he couldn’t do anything except wait in fear for what the Monster might do next. The Monster had the power to gaze upon Victor, while Victor became the victim of circumstance. The roles changed between the disabled and non-disabled. The Monster gained power over Victor, while Victor broke down. If one thinks about it, Victor, at first, was the spectator of  the “freak show.” However, when he degraded, he became the “freak” in the freak show. It is just like normalizing judgment, where an institution watches for something abnormal, and tries reforming the person, but backwards. Instead of reforming the disabled, Shelley represented the disabled in control, while the non-disabled transgressed into the disabled. 

I think this is very important because one could spend all their time explaining about how the Monster portrays physical disability and how people may sympathize with him as the victim, but no one would ever imagine Victor as the victim of the Monster. Shelley reversed the roles of the disabled and the nondisabled in order to warn readers that anyone can degrade into what they fear most, and anyone can break the normalizing judgment power by becoming the one in power. There is no such thing as the ideal person, which Shelley metaphorically describes (such as Walton’s quest to the Northern part of the world). Even if one tries to find the ideal idea, the ideal idea consumes them little by little, and making one become the very thing they swore never to be.  I also would like to believe that Shelley used Victor’s degradation as a way of representing a little aspect of madness, which could considered a part of cognitive disability. If Victor did have madness, it means Shelley portrayed two types of disabilities; cognitive and physical. The question is which one would society fear more?

Written by library1288

September 27th, 2010 at 10:08 am

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