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Archive for the ‘The Birthday of the Infanta’ tag

Limitations Imposed by Society

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As the class filed in, it continued to rain steadily outside and Doctor Foss began our class.  On this day we were going to discuss the short stories by authors of the nineteenth century, this included Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”;  Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”; Thomas Hardy’s “The Withered Arm”, and Oscar Wilde’s “The Birthday of the Infanta”. After beginning class with some announcements, such as the opportunity to sit in on Doctor Foss’s first year seminar’s, Autism in Contemporary Literature and Film, movie viewings, and that at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., there would be an Italian children’s film that was focused on Disability. Professor Foss then told us that he would be making a quick drive to the library to pick up a movie for his next class, and that we would be working mostly in small groups. Upon breaking into small groups, we mainly discussed the short stories, “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Birthmark” in terms of the disabilities and their relations to gender, and touched on the infantalization of the dwarf in “The Birthday of the Infanta”. The short stories illuminated the portrayal of disability as often depicted in according to main stream gender roles and characterizing disability as a weakness and feminine, or on the other hand disability often infantilized to evoke pathos from the reader.

Typically portrayed in terms of an act being masculine or feminine, this draws the connotations of being either a strength or weakness. This is too often associated with disability and can be seen in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”. In this story the narrator, a woman is characterized as being ‘hysterical’, a diagnosis that has historically be given to women in attempt to explain undesirable traits.  Her husband tries to brush off her behavior, telling her to retire to her room and sleep for a while. However, it is being in the room for an extended period of time that causes her mental illness to progress even further until she seems to reach her breaking point and rips down all of the wallpaper. Later still, when her husband reappears to check on her, he faints at the sight of what has happened and the state that she is in. Fainting is considered to be a ‘female’ action, uncharacteristic for men. This showed that when something was wrong with the individuals, regardless of it was the woman or man, they both exhibited stereotypically feminine actions. In comparison with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the creature is depicted as having hysteria, especially when he is yelling and making a scene. This brings to issue a disability of the body versus one of the mind. Is hysteria truly a disability? Or is it simply attributed as a sign of weakness? There is no clear answer, for there are mental disabilities that are characterized with hysterical qualities. But often people are simply attributed to having hysteria, as a way to explain undesirable behavior.

In Nathanial Hawthorne’s, “The Birthmark”, the main character Georgiana had a birthmark upon her cheek. Her husband Alymer pressured her to have it removed, marking it as a defect. He develops an obsession with having his wife being physically perfect. And through this, Georgiana began to internalize the effect, convincing herself that she needed to be fixed. This reinforces the stereotype that women need to be concerned with only their appearance. And when something is seemingly wrong, it needs to be alter. There is a clear juxtaposition of the mindsets of Georgiana and the narrator from “The Yellow Wallpaper”; while Georgiana was convinced that she needed to be ‘fixed’, the narrator confronts her disability and realizes that it is happening, this is acceptance rather than feeling that something is extremely wrong with her.  Though Georgiana is unable to do this, this may come from the pressure that women often undergo to be perfect. In Frankenstein, the creature knows that he cannot be fixed, yet he wants a very domestic reality, wishing for a wife to spend his life with. The social constructs of femininity have disabled the individuals.

The dwarf from “The Birthday of the Infanta” was, too, limited by social constructs, but not in terms of gender. His role was more comical and infantile. Upon seeing the princess of Spain and ‘performing’ for her, he wanted to be friends with her and play with her, but then he stumbles upon a mirror and sees his own appearance. He is horrified. This scene is used to evoke sympathy, for the ‘poor’ dwarf who didn’t know his own disability. This is similar to A Christmas Carol’s Tiny Tim, who tried to live life to its fullest and not be brought down by his own disability. Tiny Tim and the Dwarf want to live life without the limitations that have been imposed upon them. These limitations do not allow them to forget that they are not like everyone else.

Social limitations are often implemented from stereotypes and do not allow for those with disability to escape their differences. To some, they can be seen as a mark on society, a defect. To others they are helpless and need our sympathy. It is too often overlooked that they are individuals with varying personalities and characteristics, like everyone. Those with disabilities are not more feminine, or infantile then others. This analysis can be critiqued in the nineteenth century short stories that were read for class.

Written by sroop

October 6th, 2010 at 11:51 am

Andrew’s Formal Blog Post on the Similarities between Oscar Wilde’s “Birthday of the Infanta” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

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While reading Oscar Wilde’s Birthday of the Infanta, I could not help but see similarities between the Dwarf and Frankenstein’s monster and how they perceive themselves. Both characters are raised with the constructs of beauty and normality in society, so when they see themselves for the first time, both are horrified. Neither is able to find the acceptance that they seek, nor charity or pity from fellow man.

When the dwarf first sees his reflection in a mirror, he does not realize that he is seeing himself. Instead, he sees “a monster, the most grotesque monster he had ever beheld. Not properly shaped, as all other.”(Wilde 261). When the Dwarf finally realizes he is viewing his own reflection, he falls to the ground and says that “…it was he who was misshapen and hunchbacked, foul to look at and grotesque. He himself was the monster.”(262). His appearance dashes his hopes of the Infanta loving him, and he dies.

In Frankenstein, the Monster states “when I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?” (Shelley, Ch 13). Notice that the Monster and the Dwarf both instantly realize their bodies are formed differently than “normal” and both instantly call themselves monsters and see that they are Other. Frankenstein’s Monster, when realizing his reflection was true, he felt the “…bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification.” (Shelley, Ch 13). Both the Monster and the Dwarf realize the gravity that their appearance has had and will have on their lives, but while the Monster enacts bloody vengeance against his creator, the Dwarf dies of a broken heart.

What I found interesting was that though both were “monsters,” but because the dwarf was infantilized, but not so cute as Tiny Tim, he was seen as an object of play and laughter, dancing for the Infanta’s party, while Frankenstein’s Monster, because he was so tall and threatening, was instantly demonized. The characters are symbols of disability and their own reactions to themselves, because they have been raised with the societal construct of “normality,” show the reactions society has towards them. Though the birds and lizards do not mind the Dwarf, both of the “monsters” are unable to find real acceptance in society and their authors provide little hope for them to adapt. The characters are unable to even have compassion for themselves.  There is no charity, no pity, nor turkey dinner.

Written by aallingh

September 29th, 2010 at 11:07 am

Kathleen Fabie’s (revised) Formal Blog Post on Oscar Wilde’s “The Birthday of the Infanta”

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“When the truth dawned upon him, he gave a wild cry of despair and fell sobbing to the ground. So it was he who was misshapen and hunchbacked, foul to look at and grotesque. He himself was the monster, and it was at him that all the children had been laughing, and the little Princess who he had thought loved him — she too had been merely mocking at his ugliness and making merry over his twisted limbs” (261-262).

If — as Francis Bacon has suggested — knowledge is power, then the character known only as the “little dwarf” should be a powerful person indeed, for he has knowledge of the forest’s wonders. Yet knowledge also brings the power to destroy. In pursuit of his heart’s passion, the dwarf encounters knowledge he cannot bear. This passage reveals that it is not the knowledge that he is ugly that shatters him, but the realization that he is not loved.

To fully understand his heartbreak, it is necessary to understand the dwarf’s shock at his own reflection. He has led a happy existence. He has lived in the woods, delighting in the companionship of the birds and animals. In spite of apparent human contact, he has “complete unconsciousness of his own grotesque appearance” (252). He has a father, who thinks him “ugly and useless,” and is despicable enough to sell his son, yet this has not brought the dwarf unhappiness (252). He encounters the nobles who have purchased him for the court. Yet none of these human interactions have caused him to be unhappy. Perhaps the dwarf has seen these humans as the deviant bodies. They are giants, not like him. He is small, close to the earth and near the lizards and the flowers that he loves. Imagine the dwarf’s delight when he finally sees people that are just his size, just the right size, someone his own size at last. Imagine his happiness when he hears laughter and sees the children’s smiles and realizes that these are because of him; it is his walk, his bows and his laughter that are making the children laugh.

The dwarf has not been a miserable soul – he has been happy. Now he experiences kindred spirits, friendship, he falls in love. What a glorious place the world must be as he begins to search the castle for his princess. He has pictured them together in the forest, playing and dancing. In his imagination, he has already brought her “tiny glow-worms to be stars in the pale gold of her hair” (257). He will protect her. He loves her.

It is in the headiness of this passion that the dwarf makes his awful discovery, that he is not like the other little people he has seen. The figure he discovers “in the invisible wall of clear water,” is a “grotesque monster” (260, 261). Yet the realization of this hideous creature’s identity takes some time to come to light in the dwarf’s mind. He does not understand why it mimics him. The dwarf mocks it and is frightened by it. It confuses and disturbs him. He comes to loathe it.

At the instant the knowledge comes to the dwarf that he is the monster in the mirror, he also realizes that “it was at him that all the children had been laughing” (262). It is his knowledge of love and his awareness that he cannot be loved that is more than his heart can bear.

Written by kfabie

September 29th, 2010 at 2:18 am