Yellow Wallpaper & Metamorphosis

I remember when I signed up for Arts One and I saw Kafka on the reading list. I’d never read anything by him, but when I saw it I immediately thought to myself “That one’s gonna be worth reading”. It’s not that “The Metamorphosis” wasn’t worth reading, it’s just that I found “The Yellow Wallpaper” so interesting that Kafka’s work was a mere afterthought. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed “The Metamorphosis”, it’s just that I hated Gregor so much. Everything about him. His weak and clouded mind, being taken advantage of by his family as he continuously frets and works for them.

However in comparison, the lady from “The Yellow Wallpaper” was extremely interesting. While she too is undermined by other characters (especially her husband Jon), as she loses her mind, she also seems to gain her own freedom from his oppression. He constantly told her what to do, not to write, where to sit, how to rest, and while she did end up going crazy, the final scene is so rebellious and uprising that it almost makes me respect her. “Her” being a strange way to refer to the character, especially if it’s still “her” as in the woman who wrote the journal the entire time. We don’t really know, as the scene where she tears out the wallpaper begins to meld the woman from the wallpaper with the one outside of it.

That’s why I liked “The Yellow Wallpaper” so much, it’s open to interpretation and makes you think. Reading and re-reading you find little interesting details which perhaps make the case that she’s been trapped in the wallpaper, and others which lead to other conclusions. Whereas reading “The Metamorphosis” I had no doubts that Gregor was turned into a bug, and there was no mysticism about it all. He became a bug. Nobody cared. He eventually died. That sort of a plotline really fails to excite me, whereas the “The Yellow Wallpaper” has extremely interesting storytelling elements which leave the reader unsure about what happened, and especially what they can trust of the text.

So I guess this all shows me something. Don’t have big expectations? I’m not sure, but then again, every short story or short piece of literature we do in Arts One seems to be awesome, therefore I’ve got big expectations of short works (Borges better not let me down).


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Felisberto Hernández

Felisberto Hernández, Piano Stories

The Wednesday quotation, part XIX: I’ve been reading Felisberto Hernández, a very striking Uruguayan writer from the first half of the twentieth century who is practically unknown, especially in English. Some of his short stories have been translated, in a collection entitled Piano Stories (introduced by Italo Calvino, which should give a sense of why they might be of interest), but so far as I can tell this book never sold well and is now long out of print.

“The Stray Horse” is a story that begins by giving life to very concrete things: a marble bust, for instance, or furniture, or a pencil that “was anxious to be allowed to write” (17). Before long the narrator, a child depicted with his grandmother and with his piano teacher, Celina, with whom he is obsessed, can say that “the objects were more alive than we were” (18). As the story progresses, however, it takes on the perspective of the man that the child has become many years later and turns into a long disquisition on memory and on aging in which abstract ideas are presented with surprising vividness, as though they were tangible objects. It is as though the two halves of the story were mirror images of each other: the life of things, and the things of life that unite in (or divide) the narrator’s consciousness.

For in time, with the effort to recollect the past, the narrator finds himself multiplied, fragmented, transformed. He imagines a shadowy partner, who follows him wherever he goes and whom he dimly discerns to represent or incarnate the world of others around him. Though the two are often depicted as at odds, they also make common cause in the narrator’s adventures in consciousness and memory. This leads to an extraordinary passage that ultimately proves to be about something like creativity:

I have to thank him for the times he followed me at night to the edge of a river where I went to see the water of memory flow. When I drew some water in a jug and was saddened at how little and how still it was, he would help me invent other containers for it and comfort me by showing me its different shapes in the different vessels. Afterward we invented a boat in which to cross the river to the island where Celina’s house was. We would take along thoughts that fought hand to hand with our memories, knocking over or displacing many objects in the house. Some of the objects may have rolled under the furniture, and others we must have lost on our way back, because when we opened the bag with our hoard it was always down to just a few bones, and the small lantern we had been holding over the soil of memory dropped from our hands.

Yet the next morning we always turned what little we had gathered during the night into writing. (43-4)

Meanwhile, here is something I wrote a few years ago specifically on “The Daisy Dolls” (“Las hortensias”).

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Metamorphosis displayed a very clear theme to me, one which I found to recur throughout the text. This was the importance of money. As Gregor awakens to find himself turned into an insect he does not appear to be overly concerned. His largest concern is how he will handle his work situation, lacking a valid excuse for not arriving on time. The fact that this job as a salesman is of greater importance, seemingly, than being transformed into a gigantic bug demonstrates the importance of money in this story.

The same is seen of his family members. Gregor was counted upon by his family to put food on the table and provide for the family members’ monetary needs. Once he falls into his bug state, he can no longer work and forces his father and mother into finding lines of work in order to maintain this seemingly pitiful lifestyle. By finding work, the structure of things appears to improve. The father appears to stand straighter and have a higher sense of order in his life. This is attributed to the work, and pay which he receives. A statement could be made that money is the basis by which the family finds new life, all of which is at the expense of Gregor.

The theme of money can also be seen with Gregor and his sister Grete. He continually mentions the need and his desire to send Grete to art school. However he needs money in order to do so. This shows that progress is halted without an adequate amount of money. Gregor would love nothing more than to send Grete to art school but he has no option because of his state. Once he can no longer work and earn an income, he becomes disrespected and humiliated  Gregor is no longer treated as a family member and is left to his room, listening to the rest of his family. If money were available, Grete would be able to make advancements towards a more prosperous life. She would be able to fulfill her dream of going into art school, propelling her into her own, independent, and prosperous life.

At the very end of this story, upon the death of Gregor, the family finds a disturbing level of solace upon discovering their financial stance is better than they had once predicted. This further shows the effect of money as the structural norm and guiding force in the lives of every member of the story. I believe an argument could be made that each and every character in this story is directly affected and driven primarily by money.

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The Waste Land

Could this be the most confusing work we have read in arts one to date? I would have to agree with that statement. From the beginning of the poem onward, I found myself scratching my head and heading back a few lines to see if I had missed anything. It seems as though the purpose of this poem is that there is no purpose. The ideas appear to bounce from one vague and confusing concept to the next. This could be almost to show that what has happened so far in the world is, for the most part, disorganized.

It’s as if Eliot is attempting to show just how disorganized the world can be. That is his wasteland, and he attempts to recreate it with various bits of stories and poems. By doing so, the ideas are no longer transmitted through the actual words and text. Instead, the concept is driven home by sheer structure of the poem.

I have noticed a few names reoccurring in this poem. For example, Tiresias has found a way back into my life. Of course I remember Tiresias from Oedipus as the prophet who warned of the destruction which awaited Oedipus as he threatened and mocked the blind prophet. In the Waste Land, Tiresias is found, with breasts for a reasoning I am not quite certain. But regardless, Tiresias views the interaction between a typist and her lover. The typist appears to be taken advantage of by the man. She seems content with the situation and simply feels relief upon his departure. This sort of seemingly random event occurs continuously from different characters which are not properly introduced.

I simply hold from my deciphering of this poem that Eliot is not impressed by what has been accomplished. He sees this world as a wasteland, using bits of text as examples to his thesis.

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The Metamorphosis & The Yellow Wallpaper

In my opinion, I found Kafka’s short story to intrigue me in more ways than some other pieces we have read so far. I thought that The Metamorphosis was an immensely compelling and tragic story. As I reader, I would say that it left me really pondering things, and wanting more out of the story. The fact that a normal man undergoes such a gruesome transformation so quickly, and in a flash.. his entire life gets robbed from him, is a depressing concept to grasp.  This isn’t a story that left me feeling satisfied or happy, to say the least. It is a tale that makes one feel absolutely miserable and confused. It made me wonder how something so awful could happen to one man, and how in the end, he must sacrifice himself for the sake of others. Essentially, his life is doomed from the get go of this transformation, and its really only a matter of time until he realizes what must happen in order to rid his family of misfortune, or being at severe risk. The anger and resentment that derives from this tragedy is definitely a detail I took note of. How quickly one’s life can alter and for no given reason to support such a drastic and life-altering change! So as I previously stated, The Metamorphosis was a story that deeply affected me. It triggered something in me that Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde etc, did not. Perhaps it is because this unalterable change occurred simply out of the blue, and to a man who was not looking for it at all… but I found the story to be very compelling and thought provoking. Leaving me miserable and consumed with the tragedy of it all, I found Kafka’s thoughts and story-telling ability to be sensational, and the tale as a whole remarkable.

As for the Yellow Wallpaper, I also found this poem to be pretty interesting too. I recall reading it in Grade 11 and deeply analyzing it then, granted prior to reading it again now, I was a bit hazy on some details, but nonetheless, I thought that this poem was also written well, and the story also gripping. One of the most notable scenarios is when the narrator describes her being confined within the four yellow walls. I found her description of everything that she was seeing, or thought she was seeing to be nail biting. Her utter hysteria and arguable insanity becomes quite noticeable and vivid at this point in the narration, especially when she states, “I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled.” This poem is brilliant. I absolutely loved reading it, and it definitely makes one feel like their going psycho even reading it. Generally speaking, everything about it was astonishing.

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The Wasteland

The Wasteland is a text of mysteries. While there might be some that tear their hair out over these mysteries, analyzing with scrupulous eyes, I embrace the mystery. I try to read the text for what it is, pretty sounding words put together nicely, and if there’s a deeper meaning to find, hopefully I’ll see it. In the past I really tried to delve deep into the true meanings of books and stories, often looking to hard to even appreciate the work for what it is.

But I had a revelation with “The Wasteland”. At first I was completely puzzled by it all. Truly lost, trying to find meaning within sentences which eluded me and confused me to no end. Yet my revelation came when I remembered a conversation with an old friend from highschool. He was midway through reading James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” for a school project, and when I asked him how he managed to make sense of it all, he told me this. “I don’t make sense of anything anymore, there’s no use. Instead I just read the words for what they are, if Joyce says ‘Bisons is Bisons’, well then ‘Bisons is Bisons’.” He ended up doing pretty well on his project, so I guess he’s got this wild complicated literature stuff figured out.

It’s not that I’m saying we should avoid discussion or not ponder what “The Wasteland” means, but perhaps we should just try to read it and simply enjoy it. But of course, part of the fun of “The Wasteland” is its intricate allusions and references to older more ancient texts. It’s almost as if T.S. Eliot was re-tweeting all of the great writers of the past, throwing in his own little phrases amongst the references.

Perhaps a large part of why I enjoyed “The Wasteland” so much is that it was nice and short. Perhaps I should thank Ezra Pound, who trimmed out the unnecessary fat from T.S. Eliot’s original work. While the Wasteland is dense and colorful writing to analyze, it’s a different type of density compared to let’s say Hobbes’s “Leviathan” (probably also because it’s not sitting at around >400 pages). I really can’t say I made too much sense out of “The Wasteland”, but it’s easily one of the most memorable texts so far. I saw it almost the same way I see interpretive dance (something which I don’t know anything about), something that is there to be appreciated, and if you find deeper meanings, well that’s awesome!

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I can understand now how Utterson and Walton must have felt upon laying eyes on these monstrosities they can’t quite describe, but do anyways. Because that is exactly how I feel about Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Maybe it is the many books and literature classes I’ve taken in high school, but I feel so completely without words. Not even Raymond Carter’s weird stories could prepare me for this. I totally thought the entire time that he was going to turn back, that the entire story was a metaphor, had to have a sense for what it was as a written work. Man was the book depressing, each page you read the more it got horrible for Gregor. Surprisingly though it was still a book I didn’t have to take myself into turning, like maybe some of the more drier pieces had me. I just feel really depressed. I mean, they just up and forgot the bug thing was Gregor. Granted it was only a few pages for me and rather quite a length of time for them, but I can hardly believe that the parents would have forgotten that the thing spoke to them as Gregor before showing himself. I can see the sister not knowing, she went to fetch the doctor or whatever, but what did the parents think happened to their son then? He talked to them as he escaped out their apartment window only to leave a giant bug as a goodbye? Fair enough to say that thought may come through as his family are pretty naggy at the beginning and his job sounded pretty lame, like he hated it. But to give so much to his family over the years, them not having to lift a finger while he provided for them, and to repay him becoming a bug with stuffing him in a room… Hmmm… But I guess this helps me see the book in a new light. Perhaps I’m thinking to broad, but I guess Metamorphosis could refer to his family changing their living style in the passing of the brother, becoming more independent after having him take care if them so long. Maybe another ghost haunting type, looking over the shoulder, was too cliche for Kafka. Or maybe I am completely off mark. Overall I enjoyed the book. It was definitely a page turner and am excited to hear more about Kafka. Though now at the end of the blog, I take back my prior statement. Raymond Carter is wack. Anyone who reads him should get a gold star, his stories are seriously weird. Though I liked Raymond’s story called Fat. And the one where people were selling their furniture with the couple who wanted to buy from him… Or maybe that wasn’t him..?

“The Yellow Wallpaper”

Charlotte Perkins GilmanCharlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is preoccupied above all with the secret and mysterious life of things. It’s concerned with the human and the non-human, and the surprisingly porous line between them. The narrator takes for granted that things have what she terms “expression.” Her only surprise is that, in the circumstances in which she finds herself, they turn out to be more alive than ever: “I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have!” (3). Yet immediately after declaring that the liveliness of things is an open secret, that “we all know” that they have expression, she backtracks somewhat by suggesting that perhaps she is more attentive to their mysterious vitality than most: “I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children could find in a toy-store” (3). In part, then, the plot turns on this uncertainty: is the narrator a special case, abnormal, perhaps insane? Or is she simply telling us something we all know, to some extent or another: that things are more like us and we are more like things than we care to admit. Then there is a third possibility: that the “we” she invokes is general but not universal. It may be that there are some, particularly women, who can sympathize with things and know what it is to be treated as a thing. And that there are others, above all men, whose sense of subjectivity depends on marking (exaggerating?) their difference from things, and on asserting their superiority over the objects around them.

From the outset of the story, the narrator has a sense that things are not quite right. The house that she and her husband are to rent for the summer is, she intuits, perhaps “haunted”–though she doesn’t want to say this outright, for fear she may be accused of “romantic felicity” (1). Is this her (supposed) problem, that she is too much of a romantic, too easily affected by her surroundings? Still, she “proudly” insists, as though to defy any such insinuations, that there is “something queer” about the place. But by contrast, her husband John won’t admit to any such intimation: he is “practical in the extreme [. . .] and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures” (1). But is his problem perhaps that he in fact takes too little interest in what can be “felt and seen.” For we soon observe that the narrator focuses intently on the sensible, on her senses and sensation. For all her misgivings, she eagerly describes the house, for instance, and describes its garden as “delicious,” as though she could physically taste it. Her conviction that there is “something strange” is confirmed by her senses: “I can feel it.” Her husbands responds that what she “felt was a draught, and shut the window” (1). So begins the confinement.

Encouraged to rest, forbidden from working or writing, stuck in a room with barred windows at the top of the house, the narrator becomes obsessed with the wallpaper that lines the limits of her seclusion. It provokes, from the start, intense feelings: “I never saw a worse paper in my life. [. . .] The color is repellent, almost revolting: a smouldering unclean yellow” (2). But equally, from the start, it is described as though it had a strange (if self-destructive) will of its own: its “lame uncertain curves [. . .] suddenly commit suicide–plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions” (2). Over time, the narrator elaborates on the contradictions that she perceives in the paper, perceiving faintly “a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade, a particularly irritating one, for you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then” (3). Eventually, she comes to conclude that “it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about the pattern. I don’t like it a bit” (5). And ultimately, the tensions in her own situation, that of a frustrated woman writer, hemmed in at all sides by a husband who dismisses her sensations as hysteria, come to parallel and merge with the strains that she perceives in the patterns around her. She tears at the paper, grasping at the presence she perceives within it: “I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled” (8).

None of this is really about identification. The narrator has written herself into her surroundings, which in turn have opened up to her. It’s best to think of this as a production–better still, a co-production–of an expansive subjectivity immanent to the things of this world. Against the authoritative (and authoritarian) airs of her doctor husband, the narrator makes the whole world tremble and vibrate. And in the end, her particularity, her singularity, affects him, too, when he falls down in a faint upon entering the room that she has made her own by abolishing the distance between subject and object, human and inhuman. She has become part of it, and it finally becomes her.

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Paper and Bugs

I began The Yellow Wallpaper slightly confused. I was trying to figure out what exactly was making her sick, and had initially come to the assumption that it was depression. But as things progressed it quickly became something more like schizophrenia, as she was seeing these women “creeping” around her from this wallpaper. I was trying to solve a sort of puzzle as I read, picking up pieces of clues as to what it was she had. But post-reading, that felt not quite right to me, so I reread it. The madness that she has at the end of the story isn’t something she had all along, it’s something she’s driven into. Her husband seemed to want the best for her, but the strict guidelines he forces her to follow, hoping they will help her, are in fact was drive her into insanity it seems. I found the progression of her becoming more and more paranoid and obsessed with the wallpaper actually quite incredible, and subtly well done. On a side-note, I read this on a train at night and was actually a little bit freaked out, as my imagination got the better of me as I was reading the final page with all the “creeping women” outside her window. Looking out the window into this dark forest rushing by… seemed like the perfect place for creeping. Maybe I’ve just seen too many ghost stories. Anyway, I was quite fond of the story and all it’s delicacies.

            The Metamorphosis also had me slightly confused at the beginning… and also slightly bored. I got into later, but it was a slightly slow start. I was trying to figure out what was going on, if he was a human-sized or small insect, what type of insect he was, and if he could talk or not. I had heard he was a cockroach, so that’s how I pictured him, but the story never explicitly says. Relating to the yellow wallpaper, this transition is also very subtle and well done. Though George is quite suddenly and inexplicably turned into an insect, he slowly changes from a very human bug to a very buggy… bug. He clings to his humanity, but looses it in many aspects. There is a moment when he wants his furniture removed to allow for crawling about, but quickly feels a great sense of panic about letting go of these objects which tie him to his old self. But at the end we see a very significant change in him when he hears his sister’s music again. He once thought of her and wanted to send her to music school, but at the end he merely wants her to stay with him always, and play for him alone. He stills seems human because of the way his thoughts are presented, and is certainly not at all the same person he was at the beginning. He seems to stay the same as we are with his thoughts most of the story, but at the same time changes greatly.

Hope everyone had a great reading week, see you tomorrow!

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The Perception of Change

I found The Metamorphosis to be very Kafkaesque, which makes sense I suppose. Although I don’t think stories always need a definitive meaning, it makes it easier for me to write about The Metamorphosis if I figure out some consistent ideas and themes. So here is my main focus for this story: The perception of change, and the difference between mental and physical change. Although I can’t say that these issues were Kafka’s intention points in writing the story, it seems like he makes a lot of interesting statements on these issues throughout.

1. The way we as humans adapt to change. After his drastic transformation, Gregor continues to worry only about what he knows and understands. He gripes about problems he can control, rather than those he can’t deal with or those beyond his power. (such as being an insect) Even after he is fully aware of his buglike nature he still worries primarily about work and money. Maybe i’m reading too much into this, but it seems like humans do this; tend to focus on the trivial and understandable. Is drastic change more acceptable because we have more to compare it to or less?

2. Dissociation of identity. Eventually, Gregor’s sister begins to talk about the bug as being something different from Gregor. His appearance has changed although his mind and narrative seems not to have.  SO, there ends up being a lot here on the MIND VS. PHYSICAL. It once again raises the question of what truly makes a monster; the way they appear, and the fact that they are different, or, the way they think. Gregor’s appearance is a key reason that he loses the support of his family. So what defines identity?Another key factor in this is communication, which seems to create monsters in all our texts. (Well, usually the lack of communication or the warped nature of communication)

3. I think there is a lot more to discuss, but I had this one last weird thought I wanted to share. The story is told to make it seem like Gregor has changed. This might sound crazy, but I found myself wondering in this text: who has really changed? Gregor once asks “was this still my father” and the gentleman lodgers are not surprised to see the monstrous bug as his family. Apart from a described physical change, perhaps this story represents more the change of others, and his obvious disparity is just a sort of ridiculous reference point.

And…. The Yellow Wallpaper.

Not much to say for now, really. I thought it was brilliant. Apparently one of the goals was to make you feel like you are going insane and it surely worked. You think you know what’s going in and whose plot you are following but there is a subtle shift somehow and you aren’t sure anymore. This ties in with the critique on the way mental illness was approached: if you look at it in linear fashion things will warp anyway.