The main character in Susanna Kaysen’s, “Girl, Interrupted” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s, “The Yellow Wallpaper” are similar in the fact that they both were suppressed by male dominants. Be it therapist or physicians who either aided in their mental deformities or created them. They are similar in the sense that they are both restricted to confinement and must endure life under the watchful eye of overseers. However similar their situations may be, their responses are different. In the stories, there were both positive and negative aspects and characteristics that the two protagonists possessed.
Both women were thought insane and although they may not have been originally, being locked up made other characters question their sanity. In, “Girl, Interrupted,” Kaysen’s character was a passive yet promiscuous eighteen year old woman. Ten minutes into her visit with an analyst, Kaysen is being told she’s tired and that she needs a rest. The therapist makes a couple of phone calls, puts Kaysen in a cab and sends her off to the psychiatric ward at McLean Hospital. In the cab, she doesn’t put up a fight or try and escape and once she arrives at the hospital, she signs herself in because she is of age. Even before then, while she was still in the therapists’ office she showed no sign of struggling against the force that was her doctor.
Instead she willingly accepted the fact that she was tired and to go then rather than on Friday to the hospital. This passiveness is a dominant characteristic of Kaysen throughout the rest of the story. But I view the trait as both a positive and a negative one. It seems like it would be a positive because Kaysen allowed herself to enjoy her time in the hospital. She made an effort to make the best of the situation. However, it’s also a negative trait to possess for the simple fact that had she fought or argued with the doctor or the cab driver, she would never had to go near McLean.
During her taxi ride to the hospital she said, “I let my head fall back against the seat and shut my eyes. I was glad to be riding in a taxi instead of having to wait for the train.” This passive act, not only wins Kaysen a spot at McLean but doesn’t help change her therapist opinions on her. While reading, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I realized that Gilman also is a passive person. But I feel Gilman is passive for different reasons than Kaysen.
In, “Interrupted,” Kaysen goes along with what ever the doctors’ think she should do. She does rebel at times but for the majority of the book, she remains compliant. Gilman on the other hand doesn’t always respond positively to her physicians. Gilman is passive in this sense but aggressive as well because she acts on her own beliefs. Throughout, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman is forbidden to invoke her passion; writing. Her brother and husband, John are both highly respected doctors that believe “Congenial work, with excitement and change,” would only worsen her case.
But in spite of them, she writes anyway making sure not to be seen. Gilman’s character is a little more manic than Kaysen because she is locked up in her own house alone for the majority of her time. She is unable to leave without permission or write ever. In this aspect, I feel that being passive aggressive is a positive characteristic because it allows Gilman to fool her husband into believing she is improving.
When in actuality, she’s not and she may be going crazy being cooped up in the house all the time. However it is a negative because unlike Kaysen, she acts on her impulses without thinking them through. She doesn’t take into consideration what the consequences of her actions may be. For instance, when she starts to notice the figures behind the wallpaper taking form, she starts to peel off the wallpaper. Although she says she is trying to rescue the girl stuck behind the dreaded colored paper, this act does not show her husband she is not crazy. A common issue within the stories is the physicians.
Although both ladies are not crazy at the time of their diagnosis, by the end of the stories, readers question their sanity. Although the stories take place during two different time periods, the doctors seem to have a similar notion on how women of the time should act in social situations. In “Girl, Interrupted,” a clear example of this is given. In one of Susanna Kaysen’s medical reports, they describe her as “promiscuous” and that she “might sell self.” Because she is not in a stable relationship.
But what eighteen year old is? In another report, they go as far as to criticize her wardrobe. Once of the examiners views Kaysen as sort of a plain Jane and sees that as an issue. In “Wallpaper,” Gilman plays the more traditional role of the trophy wife whose married to the upstanding physician. Gilman never seemed ill so much as tired but by the end of the story she was insane! Gilman is so intent of keeping up appearances which is why I think she does what her husband and brother prescribe.
She even says, “If a physicican 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 tendencywhat is one to do?” This brings me to the point that women in those times had to follow their husbands orders. Anything else was unheard of! By the end of both stories, the women had changed. Kaysen for the better and Gilman, I feel changed for the worse. In “Girl, Interrupted,” Kaysen meets friends, learn about life, love, and herself and gets out of McLean. She meets a very wealthy bachelor and they date.
I feel she had the more positive ending of the two stories. Gilman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” on the other hand, should be sent to a real phsychiatric hospital. She did not have such a positive outcome. Basically, Gilman had her freedom and sanity stripped from her by her husband.
Living in solitary confinement, I would have gone insane two. But in those times, she had no choice but to do what her husband requested. However sad, that was life at the time.