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The Character of John in The Yellow Wallpaper

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The Character of John in The Yellow Wallpaper    

 
John's fascination with observing his wife can be attributed to a physician's distorted interest in the body. We can certainly speculate that, as physicians at the turn of the century were beginning to explore the female body assisted by "developments" in gynecology, John may have been equally interested in these new techniques of viewing the female body. More so than ever, the patient and her body became subject to the physician's privilege to intimately observe and diagnose her.

     Ostensibly, the narrator's illness is not physiological, but mental. John concludes that his wife is well except for a "temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency," a diagnosis that is confirmed by the narrator's own physician-brother (Gilman 10). John's profession, and moreover his diagnosis, is a license to closely observe, scrutinize, watch, gaze upon, seek out, and investigate his wife and her ailments, which consequently permits him to deploy seemingly inexhaustible (medical, scientific) means for (re)formulating and (re)presenting the hysteric female--not only for the purpose of giving her discursive representation, but in order to "de-mystify" her mystery and reassure himself that she is, finally, calculable, harmless, and non-threatening. To speak of John in psychoanalytic terms, his preoccupation with his wife, her body, and her confinement, reveals unspoken anxieties: the fear of castration and the "lack" the female body represents.

     There are, as Mulvey explains, two ways a man can potentially escape castration anxiety. One is a voyeuristic route in which the man is concerned with re-enacting the "original trauma." Here the man is concerned with asc...


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...ican Fiction. 17 (1989): 193-201.

Haney-Peritz, Janice. "Monumental Feminism and Literature's Ancestral House: Another Look at 'The Yellow Wallpaper'" Women's Studies. 12 (1986): 113-128.

Kasmer, Lisa. "Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper': A Symptomatic Reading." Literature and Psychology. 36, (1990): 1-15.

Jordanova, Ludmilla. Sexual Visions: Images of Gender in Science and Medicine between the 18th and 20th Centuries. London: Harrester Wheatsheaf, 1989.

Mulvey, Laura. "Pandora: Topographies of the Mask and Curiosity." Sexuality and Space. Ed. Beatriz Colomina. Princeton: Princeton Papers on Architecture, 1992. 53-71.

------. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Screen. 16 (1975): 6-18.

Wigley, Mark. "Untitled: The Housing of Pleasure." Sexuality and Space. Ed. Beatriz Colomina. Princeton Papers on Architecture, 1992. 327-389.


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