Apr 07 2013

Research Project Proposal (Draft One)

Published by at 1:51 am under Uncategorized

In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the protagonist suffers from what many readers quickly identify as madness. She experiences hallucinations while shut up in the attic of her summer home. She sees patterns in the wallpaper of her room that others do not, and sometimes catches a glimpse of a figure, “a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design” (Gilman). Perhaps most interesting—and perhaps unrelated to these symptoms of madness—she experiences her wallpaper’s yellow color synesthetically in terms of smell and emotion. This leads me to my research question: what role does synesthesia play in the story?

Last semester, I read “The Yellow Wallpaper” for the first time in an American literature survey class. We studied the text and the protagonist with a primary focus on the feminist issues they raised. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is widely discussed in terms of hysteria, an antiquated and sometimes misogynistic term for a disorder which falls under a spectrum of conditions now known as “conversion disorders.” However, research that thoroughly analyses the story through the lens of synesthesia has not yet been published. With the help of modern scientific research, I think that an examination of the protagonist’s synesthesia could reveal nuances that have been overlooked in the past.

Specifically, I plan to examine the way Gilman uses synesthesia in “The Yellow Wallpaper” to illustrate conflict by both literal and figurative means. The way the protagonist’s husband responds with disbelief to her claims about the behavior and qualities of the wallpaper has more obvious implications for her role as a woman in the relationship. But what does synesthesia, a phenomenon where the subject experiences an out-of-the-ordinary crossing of perceptions—where s/he perceives something completely different from what others perceive—mean symbolically? Why is synesthesia an ideal mental/neurological phenomenon for driving home the themes of the story?

To investigate further I will need sources in the form of both scientific research and literary criticism. In the last decade or so, scientific evidence for synesthesia has arisen through research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); a scientific article on this would help demonstrate synesthesia as a real phenomenon. Also, debates in the scientific community about the degree to which synesthesia is fixed and related to social context would be useful. So would articles that identify and explain the subjective experience of synesthesia. Finally, sources on synesthesia as a literary device and on the themes of “The Yellow Wallpaper” will be necessary to bridge the gap between scientific and literary analysis.


Works Cited:

Perkins Gilman, Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Boston: Small & Maynard, 1899. N. pag. Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper. Web. 30 Mar. 2013.

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One response so far

One Response to “Research Project Proposal (Draft One)”

  1.   Jason Tougawon 07 Apr 2013 at 3:19 pm

    It’s great to see you clarifying and developing your idea. Your motive is clear: The synesthesia in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is overlooked and understudied. It’s great that you’ve gotten this far. You have a genuine focus. Now, the question becomes: where to go from here?

    Is it really true that synesthesia is “the most interesting” element of the story? If it were, wouldn’t people have paid more attention to it. I’m guessing you’re making this fairly general claim because you aren’t yet ready to make a more specific one. That’s your next task. Here are some questions that might help you get there:

    1. How does synesthesia relate to the more commonly studied elements of the story–hysteria or women’s freedom, for example?

    2. Might a focus on synesthesia help us see these more commonly studied elements differently?

    3. How does Gilman’s representation of synesthesia compare and contrast to that of other writers, writers who use it for literary purposes, with less emphasis on psychology? (Find some sources that offer analysis of synesthesia as a literary technique to help you answer this question.)

    Now, the BIG question: How dominant is synesthesia in the story? In order to make this work, you need to show that its a recurrent theme or source of imagery, or that its central to her representation of her protagonists’s apparent “hysteria.” If this turns out not to be the case, you may need to bring in another literary text or two, to give your more to work with.

    Sources: Be more specific about them in your proposal. List the sources that will be at the heart of your project. This will include some criticism on Gilman, some research on synesthesia, and some criticism that focuses on synesthesia as a literary technique. You really can’t know where to take this project without identifying these sources.

    So, you are nicely focused, but you’ve got some revising to do before moving on. I do think the revision will help make your progress with the project more efficient though.

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