Malpractice and Malediction in The Marquise of O. and The Yellow Wallpaper
In Heinrich Von Kleist's The Marquise of O. and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, the female protagonist is terribly mislabeled. The inaccuracies in treatment, administered by seemingly authoritative and knowledgeable characters -- family members and a medically certified spouse, respectively -- result in tragic deterioration of the state of mind of both the Marquise and The Yellow Wallpaper's narrator. The delineation of each character's weakness is comprised of blatant references to an applied infantile image and approaching unstable mentality. In The Marquise of O, the Marquise is thrust unwillingly into the external world; in The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator is locked away unwillingly in an interior world. Though both are persecuted because of their gender, in The Marquise of O, the Marquise is troubled by the symbolic rebirth of her womanhood; while in The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator is troubled by the symbolic death of her womanhood.
Kleist begins his delineation of the Marquise with terms such as "widowed,", "a lady," and "the mother of several well-brought-up children" (Kleist 68). In this introduction the reader learns that the Marquise has experienced both marriage and childbirth. In respect to her deceased husband, the Marquise avoids remarriage and returns to her family's home with her parents, brother and children. The Marquise transforms her role as lover and wife to daughter and mother, therefore stifling an aspect of her womanhood. It is not until she is unknowingly sexually assaulted and made pregnant that her femininity is reborn.
The narrator of Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, on the other hand, seems to be at the peak of her womanhood. She and her husband John are new parents. Reminiscent of newly married couples, the pair moves temporarily into a seemingly romantic abode, "a beautiful place" adorned with "a delicious garden," complete with "grape-covered arbors with seats under them" (42). However, the narrator is troubled by evil lurking within the home: Gilman makes several references to death. She writes, "There were greenhouses, too, but they are all broken now" and ". . . the place has been empty for years" (42) which construct the idea of dwindling life and, symbolically, her femininity. She also makes references to "riotous old-fashioned flowers. . .and gnarly trees" (Gilman 46), the plants in which her fear of symbolic death of femininity is rooted. Because she is a woman, and though there is nothing observably and physically wrong with her, John continues to repress her in the yellow room, citing general hysteria as her condition.
While Gilman's narrator is aware that her femininity is being repressed, when the Marquise realizes she is pregnant, she falls into a state of denial. She asks her doctor, ". . . How is what you say possible?", and Kleist writes, "The Marquise stood as if thunderstruck"...