Modernism is a literary movement that was prominent in the 20th century. It emerged in Europe and spread to America. One of the main characteristics of modernism is the theme of isolation and exile. Another characteristic is the stream of consciousness method of writing. Both “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Stetson and “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka explore the theme of isolation and its effect on people through personal recollection of the mundane events. In “The Yellow Wallpaper””, the protagonist is driven to insanity due to her isolation and mental illness.
While in “The Metamorphosis”, Gregor morphs into a bug due to his isolation. Although the causes of both narrators’ isolation and alienation differ, they were both led to a form of insanity. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a short story written from the perspective of a woman who suffers from a mental illness. The house they are staying at, both in positive and negative manners fascinates the narrator. John, her husband, is a doctor who does not believe in mental illnesses; he’s a very materialistic man.
Because of John’s status as a man and a doctor, he has authority over her. He instructs her to rest and not write, he also forbids her from leaving the house. The narrator is very uncomfortable in the house and bedroom she is staying in. She, especially, obsesses over the wallpapering of their bedroom. With a lot of free time on hand and with not much to do, the narrator begins to trace the patterns in the wallpaper. She is eventually convinced that there is a woman trapped in the wallpaper and that she must free her.
By the end of their stay at the house, the narrator is fed up with the situation of her being uncomfortable with the wallpaper. She strips down the wallpaper and exclaims that she is finally free. Her husband walks into the room and is so shocked by what she has done that he faints upon seeing her frantically tearing the wallpaper. The novella “The Metamorphosis” begins with Gregor Samsa waking up and feeling uncomfortable with his body. As he tries to wiggle around, he realizes that he has morphed into a verminous bug.
As he struggles to absorb the shock of what just happened and to adapt to his new physique, he realizes that he is late for work. The father is horrified at his new state and his mother faints when she sees him, but his sister Grete is the only person who sympathized with him and rushes to help. The manager visits the family in order to find out why Gregor was late to work; he runs out of the apartment in horror when he sees Gregor. With time and through small anecdotes described by Kafka, Gregor begins feeling like a burden on his family and wishes he would die to spare them the troubles.
One night, the boarders his family took on to support themselves financially since Gregor cannot work anymore find out about his presence in the house and decide to leave without paying rent. Grete suggests that Gregor must be gotten rid off in any way. Famished, exhausted, and depressed, Gregor dies in his room before the next morning. The narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is locked away in an isolated house by her husband in order to cure her disorder. However, instead of her improving, the isolated state she was in made her mental condition worse.
What is supposed to refresh her mind ended up dulling it. She is exposed to the yellow wallpaper on a daily basis. It is described as an unorganized unnatural pattern that does not follow through. The persistent isolation, which gives her time for examination and reflections of the wallpaper, causes her to become more insane. “On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind” (p. 653). The fact that she believes this lack of sequence would annoy any “normal mind” shows that she does not understand how bad her illness is.
Because she is secluded, she has nothing to fill up her time or to focus on other than her imagination, which is reflected onto her hallucinations. The narrator does not have any human contact excluding her husband and sister-in-law; this forces her to create a woman who lives in the wallpaper in order to fill up her time. This is an effect of her delirium as shown in “I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind…but now I am quite sure it is a woman,” (p. 653), it is apparent that she had a moment of realization. This realization was actually compensation to her isolated situation.
She did not notice the woman before because she was less neurotic, when her insanity became worse she invented the woman. The narrator also comments “I have finally found out. The front pattern does move-and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it,” (p. 654). This is also an indication of how severe her unstable mental situation grows the more time she spends alone. In “The Metamorphosis”, Gregor morphs into an insect out of alienation and isolation. The second type of alienation described in the estrangement of the worker by Karl Marx, is what drives Gregor’s change.
Marx’s theory is defined as, “The second type of alienation is the estrangement of the worker from the activity of production. The work that the worker performs does not belong to the worker but is a means of survival that the worker is forced to perform for someone else. As such, his working activity does not spring spontaneously from within as a natural act of creativity but rather exists outside of him and signifies a loss of his self” (SparkNotes Editors). This is a perfect explanation for Gregor’s life. He was forced to work a job he does not enjoy to provide for a family that does not appreciate him.
Gregor states “If I were to try that with my boss, I’d be thrown out on the spot. Still, who knows whether that mightn’t be really good for me. If I didn’t hold back for my parents’ sake, I would’ve quit ages ago” (p. 5). The “that” refers to him waking up late and missing the train to meet a client. Subsequently, this is exactly what happens to him. It is apparent that Gregor hated his job because he thinks that him leaving his job could actually be beneficial to him. His transformation has the unintentional consequence of pleasing Gregor’s desire to quit his job.
Gregor was only appreciated for the money he brought the family and not as a member of the family that they would care for on a deeper level. Kafka expresses on behalf of Gregor, “He felt a great pride that he had been able to provide such a life in a beautiful apartment like this for his parents and his sister”(p. 28). Eventually, the family shunned him because he was of no more use since he cannot work anymore. Also, the family blamed him for their financial downfall (quote). This added to his isolation, which pushed his depression forward. His death was triggered by his family’s hostility and their desire to banish him.
Gregor was isolated form his loved ones because of the amount of money he made was linked to how much he was appreciated. The father was extremely annoyed by Gregor’s situation because Gregor was not able to work and provide for them anymore. Franz states, “The father relentlessly pressed forward pushing out sibilants, like a wild man” (p. 24). His father pushed him with a stick and threw apples at him in order to express that. At first, the sister was more accepting of Gregor, but when she realized how much of a burden he is on the family, she also wanted him gone.
Therefore his isolation is what pushed him to morph, and his further isolation pushed him to die. Both stories were written in the Stream of consciousness method, which was made popular by the modernists. The authors used this method to demonstrate how isolated the protagonists are. The narrators use stream of consciousness to express everyday mundane life in order to let out their feelings and emotions. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the narrator narrates Gregor’s every day life from what he feels to what he does and what his family is doing.
He goes into details about situations that do not add depth to the story. While in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the story is written as a diary of the narrator’s life. She even mentions mundane feelings and observations like “I don’t know why I should write this” (p. 651) “There’s sister on the stairs” (p. 650). This allows the narrator to feel like she is communicating with another human although she is almost in complete isolation. To conclude, by nature, humans cannot deal with being isolated for long periods of time and in these two cases, the narrator and Gregor prove this to be correct.
Although these two stories include different characters and some different experiences, they each are negatively impacted by societal isolation. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” her isolation drives her to insanity, while in “The Metamorphosis” the alienation that Gregor feels in his job as described by Karl Marx is what drives him to morph. These two stories emphasize the importance of human connection and how humans are social creatures that need this connection with other people to keep sane.
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