Violence, Madness, and Guilt in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a short story about a woman who is slowly slipping into madness because her doctor husband will not acknowledge that she has postpartum depression. Conversely, “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe is another short story about a man who seems to be fond of cats, but as the plot progresses the man becomes an alcoholic putting him in peculiar moods and making him violent. This leads him to start torturing and killing animals and eventually he kills his wife. Symbolism is used to show the narrator’s position on violence, madness, and guilt. A recurring theme pops up with both short stories when the main protagonists claim they have been taken over by madness. There are various uses of symbolism used by the writer’s to represent madness.

In The Yellow Wallpaper, the story is being driven by the narrator’s awareness that the yellow wallpaper is something that she must interpret, that it is a symbolism for something that is directly affecting her (Rena). In the beginning, it seems solely unpleasant. Gilman describes it is an “unclean yellow” that is ripped and soiled. The narrator explains that the worst part of the wallpaper is the unorganized pattern that she constantly is trying to figure out. After a few hours of staring blankly into the wallpaper, she notices a pattern behind the main pattern. The pattern that is only apparent in direct light seems to be a ghost.

Shortly after, the pattern becomes focused and reveals a desperate woman. She is constantly crawling around looking to escape from the main pattern, which resembles bars of a cage (Gilman 12). As the narrator goes on, she notices that the cage is adorned with the heads of the different woman, all of whom were tortured and strangled when they tried to escape. It is clear that the wallpaper represents the family structure, medicine, and a tradition of finding herself trapped like all of the other women. The wallpaper is a symbol of being domestic and humble. Gilman is amazing at using this scary, ugly paper of how the domestic life traps many women. She realizes at the end that the visible woman-figure in the wallpaper was she trapped with so many other women in society.

A specific symbol in “The Yellow Wallpaper” was the window in her room. It is symbolized as a world of possibilities, but then becomes a view to what she does not want to see. Through that window, she realizes all the things she could be and the life she could have. The only problem is, she has to lie low; she has to hide and creep in order to be a part of society. She does not want to have to see the other trapped women who have to do the same because of how they all reflect her. She says, “Most women do not creep by daylight”. This expresses that they have to hide in the shadows; moving without being caught. She no longer has that gateway open because John will not let her. He has bars holding her in. She believes that that world does not belong to her. She will always be controlled and formed to hide her self-expression. She will always be forced to creep like all the women (Sant). Just like the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is falling into madness, it is the same for the narrator in “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe.

“The Black Cat” holds many symbols. The main symbols are the two cats, one whose name is Pluto. He is a symbolism of the underworld or hell. The eye of Pluto never would have dared to judge the narrator for his alcohol problem and only treated him with unconditional love. Still, the narrator cuts the eye of the cat out. It represented the compromise of the love the cat shared before. The second cat was also a representation of death. At the very end of the story, the audience discovers the second cat lying on top of his wife’s body. This is a symbol of death that is actually on top of death itself. Because of this happening, the narrator gets caught. This symbolizes that there is no escape to death and the wickedness that the narrator fails to resist (Poe 14). These short stories are very similar in a lot of different ways. One main theme for these two stories is the theme of insanity. Another thing that these two stories have i common is the use of colors in both of their titles. “The Black Cat” is about a man who is crazy about his animals and finds a black cat and becomes friends with her. Later on, a moment occurs and the man decides to hang the cat after he has cut its eye out.

Therefore, the narrator is showing madness. Again he finds another black cat that he befriends until he finds out it is not interested anymore. One day he falls down his stairs because of the cat and he tries to kill it with an axe. He is stopped by his wife, but she then faces the trauma and is murdered by her husband. She is then discovered in the walls with the other cat. Poe characterizes what he understands as madness (Poe 18). In comparison, it is quite evident that the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is also mentally disturbed more and more towards the end. She would spend every single wakening night staring at that yellow wallpaper. Eventually, although the change is a slight one, her madness is fully exposed when she realizes she is also one of the women (Gilman).

At the closing of both stories, mental disturbance is very evident in both narrators. Both of the narrators are filled with guilt and madness as the story progresses. With the symbolism position on violence, madness, and guilt in these stories, we are able to drawsimilarities between them even with their many differences.

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