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The creative treatment of disobedience and rebellion in Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”
In his essay “Civil Disobedience”, in which he describes his experience of incarceration for his refusal to pay taxes as a protest against the U.S. war with Mexico, American Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau writes:
“I stood considering the walls of solid stone, two or three feet thick… and the iron grating which strained the light, I could not help being struck with the foolishness of that institution which treated me as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be locked up… As they could not reach me, they had resolved to punish my body… I saw that, if there was a wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to climb or break through, before they could get to be as free as I was. I did not for a moment feel confined.”
Explain the creative treatment of disobedience and rebellion in Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” – how do they extend and reinterpret Thoreau’s ideas?
“And I don’t want no pardon for what I was and am.
I won’t be reconstructed, and I don’t care a damn.”
The progress is run by those people, who place themselves against the mainstream accepted by majority. If they believe in the truthfulness of their ideas, and try to follow the correct ways, they will definitely achieve something – that was the idea of the rebellion by Thoreau: “For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever”.
In all three abovementioned literary works the characters rebel against the oppressive system but in a very different, distinctive ways. It is interesting why the fight against a would-be common phenomenon turns out to be so different. What kind of factors, situations, circumstances affect?
Why Thoreau rebels openly, loudly, argumentatively, thoughtfully, while the protagonist of “The Yellow Wallpaper” does the same spontaneously, within herself, never crossing the limits of her own inner world, and why Bartleby uses that distinguishing way of rebellion?
It seems that the way, and especially the success of the idea, of the fighting against, of any rebellion depends not only on a willingness, but on a person him/herself, his power of spirit, ability to resist, will power, educational and social background.
In spite of the fact that Thoreau originated from the rural area, and was a farmer, he received the education in the most prestigious university of the country, and so improved his social position.
The rebellion in “The Civil Disobedience” he describes philosophically, although the notions like conscience, morality, spirituality are very important for the author, but even they are somehow analyzed philosophically. The fighting against the system we see in Thoreau’s essay through the eyes of the author, all his ideas are thought up, approved by different arguments and it makes this rebellion extremely rational.
Any of the rebellions of the characters in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Bartleby The Scrivener” cannot be called rational. Those two rebels were in situations completely different from each other and the one of Thoreau’s, though they have the strong connecting point – all three of them were oppressed by the system, by the reality that surrounded them, in moral and sometimes even in physical way: “they had resolved to punish my body”.
In all the three works the element of enclosure is strongly underlined and Thoreau is the only one who is forced to stay as the prisoner, and he only treat the walls as the physical separation from the world, he never tries to find something inside these walls, as two other characters do. Both Bartleby and the protagonist of the short story by Charlotte Perkins Gillman somehow treat the walls as not only something physical, but as the spiritual barrier between them and the reality outside and they don’t try to fight against it. That makes their enclosure seem free-willing.
It’s hard to say weather those two characters extend the Thoreau’s idea of rebellion, because it seems more to be narrowed by their treatment of it, as it only fits to their characters and their situations, and the rebellion is only for them, never for somebody else’s sake.