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How Passivity and Submissiveness Lead to Madness by Charlette Perkins Gilman and Henrik Ibsen

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How Passivity and Submissiveness lead to madness by Charlette Perkins Gilman and Henrik Ibsen

"He told me all his opinions, so I had the same ones too; or if they were different I hid them, since he wouldn't have cared for that" (Ibsen 109). As this quote suggests Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in "The Yellow Wall-Paper" and Henrik Ibsen, in A Doll House dramatize that, for woman, silent passivity and submissiveness can lead to madness.

The narrator of "The Yellow Wall-Paper" is driven to madness after she withdraws into herself. "I am alone" (Gilman 44), she tells us. Desperately trying to express her feelings to John, she says "I told him that I really was not gaining here and that I wish he would take me away"(Gilman 46), but "I stopped short; for he sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern reproachful look that I could not say another word." Instead the narrator "keeps quiet." She settles into quiet submission: I "am much more quiet than I was. John is so pleased" (Gilman 48). She is "afraid" to "irritate" John or "to make him uncomfortable" (Gilman42). She makes herself believe that as a "physician" he knows what's best for her and, therefore, acts passively, letting John control her even though she gets "unreasonably angry with" him (Gilman40).

Writing in her journal is the only thing that keeps her sane; yet John takes that away from her: "I must put this away-he hates to have me write" (Gilman 41). The narrator yearns to confess to John how she really feels, but she prefers to keep her feelings bottled up: "I think sometimes that if I were to write a little it would relieve the pressure of ideas and rest me" (Gilman 42). Instead, she is passive and hides her emotions. "I cry at nothing and cry most of the time. Of course I don't when John is here, or anybody else," only "when I am alone" (Gilman 44). She tells us that "John doesn't know how much I really suffer" (Gilman 41). Even when the narrator tries to communicate with him, he immediately dismisses her: "I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him," but "John wouldn't hear of it" (Gilman 40). Instead of speaking her mind and standing up for herself, she withdraws and does "not say another word"(Gilman 47).

Convincing herself that John is always "right," she obeys whatever "John says," which only causes her condition to "worsen" despite the fact the her husband insists that she is "gaining", and her condition is "better"(Gilman 46). The narrator believes "that congenial work with excitement and change would do [her] good" (Gilman 39), but she subordinates her own feelings and adheres to John's directions, which only "makes [her] feel badly"(Gilman 40). She tells John that she wants to visit Henry and Julia, her cousins, but he tells her that "she wasn't able to" (Gilman 45). She is left feeling helpless: "what is one to do?" (Gilman 39). By suppressing her feelings, the narrator slowly "creeps" (Gilman 52) towards insanity.

The narrator's feelings of inferiority and powerlessness parallels the female figure she sees trapped behind the pattern in the wall-paper adorning her room. She gradually withdraws from both John and reality by locking herself in the room and ultimately merging with the figure. Through the changing image of the pattern from a "fait figure" (Gilman 46) to a "woman stooping" (Gilman 46) behind the paper and "shaking the bars" (Gilman 46) as if she wanted "to get out" (Gilman 46), we can see her becoming one with the figure: "I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper."(51) Her collapse into madness as reflected in her behavior with the "bedstead [that] is fairly gnawed" (Gilman 51) and her "creeping all around" (Gilman 50) is a direct result of her passive submissiveness to John's control of her life.

In comparison to "The Yellow Wall-Paper," Henrik Ibsen also brilliantly dramatizes the link between silent passivity and madness through the characterization of Nora Helmer, the wife of a banker who is driven to the edge of madness after trying to hide her "big secret" (Ibsen 55) from her husband Torvald. Terrified that her husband might find out that she had forged her father's signature to secure a loan, even though it was done with the intention of saving his life, she is a prisoner to her own secret, which keeps her in silence. She must pretend that everything is normal when she is around him. As she tells her friend Kristine: "Nobody must know. Not for anything in the world" (Ibsen 53). Nora can not let anyone find out about the crime she had committed because it will "ruin" her marriage and her "beautiful, happy home" (Ibsen 54) as well as her husbands reputation. She carries the burden of the secret with her everyday, struggling to find ways to pay the money back to Krogstad, the lawyer from whom she borrowed the money for the loan. Rather than accept her "punishment" (Ibsen 70) and tell Torvald the truth, she puts on a "mask" (Ibsen 70)

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