Supplemental docs (sticky notes): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nJJk-
In the poem “Plants”, Olive Senior takes on the persona of a speaker that seems to know a greater truth and reveals the nefarious deeds of plants that happen right under our noses. However, this is simply a literary vessel to underscore the complexity of plants that most don’t realise.
Senior’s choice of diction within the first sentence sets the tone of the poem. The uncommon connection between the words plants and deceiving hooks the reader in. Normally a plant might have descriptors such as green, large, or beautiful. However, in this instance the author chooses to personify plants, giving it a human-like characteristic, something which will become a theme within this poem. Furthermore, with these initial three words, Senior embeds the idea that there is more to plants than we the reader knows.
Throughout the poem, Senior utilises a series of literary devices to overly emphasize and dramatize the existence of plants. Firstly, the structure creates these mini cliffhangers into epic reveals. This is achieved primarily through the use of enjambment. For example, “we must infer/a sinister” cuts off at infer. The reader likely questions what is next to come. What must we infer? Then the narrator hits us with his answer. Similar structuring is found in almost every line. This repeated use nears the point of ridiculousness, perhaps to say that the narrator’s words on not to be taken completely seriously.
The narrator uses a vast assortment of dramatic warfare diction to impart to the reader what is otherwise simply plant biology in a fantastical manner. By painting these wild images, she effectively grabs the reader’s attention and directs it toward the underlying facts. His description of a mangrove tree is a prime example. She writes, “armies of mangrove/on the march”. Mangrove trees are uniquely known for the way they display their roots above water. As such, though she is personifying the plant, it is a befitting descriptor. The narrator continues this technique to talk about seedlings, burrs, and flowers, things readers likely take for granted, and unveils compelling information about them.
Ultimately, what I believe the narrator aimed to do through his dramatization of plant life, was to plants (no pun intended) an appreciation for the intricacies of plant life we typically look over. Olive Senior creates absurd depictions of plants to activate the imagination of the reader. Through this the reader gleams some of the truths of plants in her narrative and perhaps comes value the flowers on their windowsill as more than just a pretty thing.
Are stories “all one story” or rewarmed versions of one another?
Stories typically involve tropes of some sort. For example, a hero must go find an object to save their community. This could be Lord of the Rings, or some Arthurian legend about the holy grail. It is hard for authors to avoid this, they may end up slipping them in unconsciously. Additionally, it becomes hard to write an “original” story when the tropes are so effective in building a compelling narrative. That is not to say all stories are replicas of each other. There are many more aspects to stories: characters, their development, the dialogue, environment, moral, etc. I would argue that tropes are more of something to serve as a source of familiarity to the readers. Familiarity becomes important as it can better evoke emotions from the reader. Stories become more relatable and it is easier to feel sympathy for the characters.
November 7, 2019
The Yellow Wallpaper Analysis
The short story, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, has held acclaim and been regarded as an important piece of feminist literature. It is no challenge to see why this is the case. In this piece, Gilman masterfully utilizes and develops the titular yellow wallpaper throughout the narrative as a symbol to explore the theme of the oppressiveness of marriage and societal standards for women.
In the narrative, the narrator begins to see things within the wallpaper. In particular, a ‘woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern’. The pattern of the wallpaper is described as jailing the woman. ‘It becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be’. In context, the patterned nature of the wallpaper takes on new meaning. This story was published in 1892, a period of time where women were generally considered inferior to men, both physically and mentally (“Roles”’). Gilman herself experienced an unhappy marriage which later came to inspire this very short story (Biography). Perhaps the woman (and by extension the narrator and author) is not only trapped by the physical pattern of the paper, but also by the societal pattern of 19th century women where, subject to Victorian standards, the female role was largely limited to domestic care and highly restricted at all wealth levels. This can be inferred as later in the narrative, the narrator, in her maddened state, begins to believe that she herself is the woman trapped behind the paper. She questions ‘I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?, and remarks that she will have ‘to get back behind the pattern’. In this moment, Gilman conveys to the reader the conceptual parallels between the narrator and the woman. Additionally, the narrator gives a vivid description of the wallpaper as ‘repellant, almost revolting’ and her attitude toward the room as ‘I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long’. Not only is this describing her aversion to the actual wallpaper, but is, by extension, reflecting the narrator’s and author’s negative sentiment towards the conventional role of women of this time period.
Gilman continues to develop this symbol throughout the narrative. As the story progresses and the narrator’s hysteria deepens, she sees increasingly horrid details on the wallpaper, ‘it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads. They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside-down, and makes their eyes white!’ This grotesque imagery underscores the truly oppressive the institution of marriage of her time was. Specific diction like ‘strangles’ depict its suffocating nature. The deliberate plural use of the ‘heads’ and ‘they’ extends this issue to all women, that it is not only the narrator facing this difficulty.
At the end of the story, Gilman has the narrator tear down the yellow wallpaper to the horror of John, her husband. He exclaims, ‘For God’s sake, what are you doing!’. On the other hand, Jennie, who happens to be a woman, is not shocked, but rather she ‘looked at the wall in amazement’. This final symbolic act represents the narrator’s attempt to break free of the confines of her situation. She becomes free from the wallpaper and societal constriction to the horror of John, and the awe of Jennie. After John collapses at the sight of the narrator in the room crawling about, the narrator has to ‘creep over him every time!’ she passes. This can be interpreted as her triumph over him, and macroscopically, a triumph of women over men and societal standards as a whole. In her last lines of dialogue, the narrator declares her freedom victoriously, “I’ve got out at last,” said I, “in spite of you and Jane! And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” One way or another, the narrator has symbolically freed herself of the shackles her life as a married woman has placed on her despite the opposition of those around her.
Finally, it is only through Gilman’s use of first person perspective and journal style writing that the otherwise mundane yellow wallpaper was able to take on much greater meaning. Firstly, using this point of view, the reader gains a much more personal understanding of the narrator’s descent into madness. Not only does this cultivate sympathy from the reader, but also later becomes invaluable as the reader is able to infer that statements such as ‘that dim sub-pattern,—but now I am quite sure it is a woman’, are simply the delusions of the narrator. With this understanding, the idea that the woman in the wall is a reflection of the narrator gains more viability since that woman was born from the narrators imaginations and is ultimately a derivation of her marriage.
In conclusion, Gilmans development of the yellow wallpaper as a symbol and the narrator’s interactions with it speaks volumes on the role of women of her time. With the historical context and through the lens of this hysterical women, Gilman was able to transform this potentially dull story about a failed mental recovery into a timeless piece of chilling social commentary.
Biography.com Editors. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman Biography.” The Biography.com Website, A&E Networks Television, 12 Apr. 2019, www.biography.com/writer/charlotte-perkins-gilman.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The New England Magazine. 1892. [PDF Document]. Retrieved from HKIS Schoology site: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1952/1952-h/1952-h.htm
“Roles of Women in the Victorian Era.” The Victorian Era England Facts about Queen Victoria, Society & Literature, victorian-era.org/roles-of-women-in-the-victorian-era.html.
Two poems “A Barred Owl” and “The History Teacher”, written by Richard Wilbur and Billy Collins respectively, both speak on the power of words and twisting the truth, both of who offer differing stances. Wilbur points to the positives of concealing the truth. On the other hand, Collin’s poem proposes the harm that concealing the truth may cause. Throughout each poem, the respective authors utilise differing literary devices that make their message all the more compelling.
Wilbur’s poetic structure is two stanzas of six lines each. In partitioning his poem in this way, he separates two differing parts of his narrative. The first stanza involves the parents explanation, and more importantly, the concealing of the truth aspect. We understand this is true based off common knowledge. The “Who cooks for you?” explanation is simply not true. The second stanza now introduces the true nature of the owl, and to that extent, the reason concealing the truth might be beneficial. This concept is explicitly introduced in the first two lines of the second stanza. “Words, which can make our terros bravely clear, Can also thus domesticate a fear.” Ultimately, by splitting these two stanzas, Wilbur establishes not only a conceptual difference, but also build suspense even with this separation.
While Collins’ message is vastly different from Wilbur, he too intentionally chooses his structure to make his poem get his message across successfully. Collin’s stanzas have a repeated structure of the historic event and then the teacher’s explanation. For example, “And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,/ named after the long driveways of the time”. This use of enjambment serves to build suspense and add comedic timing. The first part is the set up and the second the punchline. In doing this, Collins demonstrates the ridiculousness of the teacher’s actions thus furthering his warning of overly concealing the truth.
Throughout “A Barred Owl”, Wilbur uses an AA BB rhyme scheme, as well as specific diction, to make the narrative and his message more compelling. For example, the last two lines rhyme on the words “claw” and “raw”. Given the goal of the second stanza was to point out how concealing the truth protects the child, the rhyme serves to emphasize this carefully chosen grotesque diction. These devices working in conjunction build a frightening image of the owl, something to rightfully protect the child from. This device also serves another purpose. The simple rhyme scheme is reminiscent of a children’s book, something used to calm down a child. This may cause the readers to subconsciously gain a deeper understanding of the poem’s message.
On the other hand, Collins’ poem follows no rhyme scheme and is instead free verse. This sets the tone of the poem to be much more lighthearted in contrast to Wilbur’s poem and leads the reader to take the teacher less seriously and, by extension, the idea of concealing the truth.
Wilbur’s poetic structure, rhyme scheme, and carefully chosen diction, all amalgamate into this short yet effective poem underlying the importance of concealing the truth from children. Conversely, Collin’s lack of structure and rhyme scheme aims to convey the harm in veiling the truth. Though these two poems vary greatly in their style, each is effective in conveying their opposing messages.
This project was done on the Nobel prize-winning poet: Octavio Paz
Presentation used for teaching my peers:
Supporting documents (poem analysis) / Lesson Plan: link
|1 min||About Octavio Paz|
|3 min||Read and annotate together|
|3 min||My analysis|
|3 min||Calling cards|