May 07 2013

Words Guide Thoughts in “Sorrows of an American” and “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Published by at 12:52 pm under Uncategorized

In Siri Hustvedt’s novel Sorrows of an American, there is a scene where Erik asks Inga about the Inside Gotham tabloid article in which details on her late husband’s private life are expected to appear. She goes into a brief explanation of consciousness, and says that in her book she discusses “the way we organize perceptions into stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, how our memory fragments don’t have any coherence until they are reimagined in words” (47). Inga’s understanding of language is that it creates a track on which our minds can run and without which we could not think linearly. She explains that even time itself “is a property of language, syntax, and tense” (47), arguing that reality as we perceive it is constructed by language.

Similarly, in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator tries to escape her oppression by tearing down the wallpaper of her room–which, according to Paula Treichler, represents language as a tool to oppress women. Language, in this interpretation, is the front on which women fight the patriarchy for the right to self-expression. Language is essential to the struggle to achieve freedom, and is also at the core of the social imbalance that causes madness. By tearing down the wallpaper, by documenting her thoughts in her journal, and–I argue in my research paper–by being a color-olfaction synesthete, the narrator rebels against patriarchal norms and “creates in her brain a world that makes sense to her, and in doing so rewrites the rules of what is legitimate and real” (11).

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One Response to “Words Guide Thoughts in “Sorrows of an American” and “The Yellow Wallpaper””

  1.   Ariel Shapiroon 12 May 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Nice parallel. Until this class I never really gave much thought to the relationship between language and our thoughts. The first day of class brought the issue to the forefront of my mind and throughout the course new ideas about the relationship have emerged. When I was doing research for my seminar project one of the most interesting things I came across was in Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures. As someone who has autism Temple explains how she thinks in images and not words. I had the hardest time understanding what this meant as I’m sure many people would, but the idea of not thinking with language was fascinating.

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