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Question 1: Setting
In each of the five stories, setting plays a very important role in the
tone and plot of the story. In “Revolt of Mother” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman,
the setting, time as well as place not only helps the entire story make sense,
but it gives the story a reason to exist. The story “The Yellow Wallpaper”
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is another example of the setting playing a major role in the story, since most of the story revolves around the setting that the main character is in. “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” written by Katherine Anne Porter is different in that the entire story takes place in just one room, but Granny‟s mind takes her not only to different times, but different places.
The time is an important part of every setting. The time of day, time of year, and time throughout history plays an important role in how we perceive a story. For example, “Revolt of Mother” would not be such a strong piece if it had not taken place in the late 1800's or early 1900‟s. The mother would not
be perceived as such a strong and unique character had she not been set in this time when women were not the heads of households, and the story would have been a lot different had the majority of the action not taken place while father was away from the farm. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” much of this story would be very different had it not taken place at a time when women were commonly oppressed by their husbands. It was not rare to have women diagnosed with “nervous” disorders in the late 1800‟s, and this oppression helps to develop the story. In “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” the time frame is also in the late 1800's or early 1900‟s, and this gives the story a lot to work with without leaving the house. In a different time frame, the same story would take place in a hospital bed or perhaps a nursing home rather than at the house that it is in. Doctors very rarely make house calls anymore. The time frame of the story also indicates the language that is used in the story. The particular dialect that is used in “Revolt of Mother” is normal for the time in which this story was written. The names that the husband and wife refer to each other as (mother and father) is telling of the time in which they lived. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the wife speaks very properly, as a young lady was expected to during that time, and she even speaks as if she is being unknowingly oppressed by her husband. In “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” the characters have very old sounding names, like Cornelia and Hapsy.
In addition to the time, the surroundings are an important part of every setting. “Revolt of Mother” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” revolve around the surroundings in the stories, while “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” uses the surroundings to accent the tone of the rest of the story. In “The Yellow
Wallpaper,” the colonial house set on a plot of land overlooking a wharf is a seemingly beautiful setting, but as the character describes in more and more detail the surroundings that are in her room, it becomes more and more like a prison to her. From the bars on the windows to the bed that is chipped up to the everlasting, creepy yellow wallpaper with a “smooch” around the entire room, every part of the surroundings have a certain effect on the readers. The
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detail in which everything is described, the wallpaper in particular, is an emphasis on its importance to the story. In “Revolt of Mother” the setting includes a house and a barn, as well as other surroundings such as a field. The house is described as small; barely enough to house all the people living there, and ragged although father is building a new barn out in the field. The new barn is fresh and regal, large enough for two whole families; it suits mother just fine as a house. In a different setting, the entire story would have to change. The barn or the house would be impractical in any other but a farm setting, and the relationship between mother and father would be different as well. In “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” the setting almost always remains
just in one bedroom of one house, right where granny stays for the duration of the story. Only granny‟s mind took the story to other places; the attic where the letters were kept, the field where she had dug all those fencepost holes, the place where the wedding had never taken place. Each of these respective settings are mere flashes of images, giving the reader a sense of how granny‟s mind is floating from subject to subject without resting anywhere for too long.
The way that the setting is described is also very important to how a story is perceived by the audience. In “Revolt of Mother” the setting is described in a very matter of fact sort of way. “The house, standing at right angles with the barn and a great reach of sheds and outbuildings, was infinitesimal compared with them” (548, The Story and its Writer). The no-
nonsense descriptions add to the practical, down to earth tone of the entire story. If it were elaborately written about and eloquently stated, the same setting would sound entirely different to the reader, or would place too much importance on the setting rather than the necessities of the story. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” the setting takes up most of the story. A lot of time is spent describing the image of the yellow wallpaper. “The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning light… It is dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulfur in others… interminable grotesques seem to form around a common center and rush off in headlong plunges of equal distraction” (577-581, The Story and its Writer). By
spending so much time describing the setting and the wallpaper in particular, the author places a huge amount of importance on those objects. It is impossible to not notice the wallpaper, not get a feeling of how disturbing it is supposed to be. In “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” the setting floats off, almost out of reach, in a bit of a haze even to the person describing it. “What does a woman do when she has put on her white veil and set out the white cake and he doesn‟t come... There was the day, the day, but a whirl of dark smoke rose and covered it, crept up and over into the bright field where everything was planted so carefully in orderly rows” (1214, The Story and its
Writer). This adds an air of reminiscence, but not clarity to the settings that granny sees passing before her eyes.
Setting is a huge part of every story. There are numerous ways to accomplish a story that revolves around setting or uses it only to accent the plot, but it is impossible to write a story without setting. It is in every aspect of the writing; the speech, the surroundings, even the actions of the characters
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depend on the setting. The three stories that have been covered here all use setting in different ways to achieve different things. Time, surroundings, and the way the setting is laid out all have big roles in the success of a story. Although all three stories are written around the same time, they are very different because of what their settings have achieved.
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2 Discuss the presentation of male characters within these stories and how and why this effects your reading of them.
Each one of these stories tells a women‟s story, one that in some way shape or
form is designed for every women in the world to relate to somehow. In order to get whatever idea of feminism the author has across they must have something to compare the woman to, naturally that would male counterparts. Though in all five of these stories there is portrayal of men and their effect on the women‟s lives, each one is quite different and each and every male has a different impact on the over all story.
Most of the men in the stories fall into a category of complete neglect or disrespect for the woman in question. In Revolt of “Mother” the entire plot is focused on a woman who simply cannot take her husbands disregard for his family‟s well being any longer. Mary E. Wilkins sets up, what is in this set of stories, the most told and oddly enough modern story of a women breaking out of her social role. Though it‟s been updated in many ways, this story reflects the plot of so many modern day sitcoms and romantic comedies. The protagonist wife who has stood loyally by her seemingly unloving husband finally snaps and he ends up in the dog house. Her husband, Adoniram, closes the story remarking “Why, Mother I hadn‟t no idea you was so set on‟t as all this comes to,” stating that he had no idea how unhappy she was. Which hits another theme that many of the male characters are used to portray and that is the thought of invisibility and uselessness many of the women feel and some never seem to recover from. The shock that Adoniram seemingly felt at the end of Revolt of “Mother” is not one that each male character had by the end of
their involvement. In The Jilting of Granny Weatherall George, the man who left her at the alter 60 years ago, is one of her main thoughts as she lay dying. Unlike Adoniram, it is believed George‟s actions were completely intentional.
Now at 80 years old Granny still references as the memories being a personal hell that envelops her when she speaks of how George hurt her years before. Without him she still lived her life and loved her husband, but even after 60 years of healing this hate and pain was still there on Granny Weatherall‟s part.
I Stand Here Ironing and Why I live at the P.O. Are the two stories that don‟t focus on a married women‟s trials with her husband or that sort of relationship. I Stand Here Ironing‟s entire plot is, in a way, the direct result of a man‟s action or more importantly inaction. Both Ironing and Why I Live at the P.O. both involve men that aren‟t actually in the story, making them a sort of intangible force that greatly affects both of the women the stories are told by. Sister says very little about Mr.Witaker except by adding comments like “Of course I went with Mr.Witaker first...and Stella Rondo broke us up” but that is all she really needed to remark, for the rest of her actions clearly show what his effect on her truly was. By leaving her for Stella-Rondo, the one person she has an extreme inferiority complex with, Mr.Witaker created this self loathing and strange attempt for favoritism of the family from within Sister. Now, many
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of this probably already existed within her, but it seems that simple act was what first set Sister off on her constant battle with Stella-Rondo, which results in her trying to hurt her family and moving in the Post Office. I Stand Here Ironing is also an internal thought of the main character just as Why I Live at the P.O. is told through Sister‟s eyes. Because both of the narrators are telling their own stories they don‟t elaborate on certain aspects or results of past relationships. Ironing has a focus on a single mother in a time where that was not accepted. Due to the fact that years ago a man walked out on her, she is left to raise her children, work and somehow have time to be there for people all by her lonesome. As she lists off all the mistakes she makes and how things could have been different it becomes clear that a lot of the weight on these actions lay on the fact that she was doing it all alone. There was no man to help her out. In the case of her children‟s father his inaction was the cause of a world of worry and failure in the narrator‟s mind.
Yellow Wallpaper has perhaps the most interesting dynamic between our leading lady and the male lead in her life. John, her husband, seems to be extremely loving to her. Though he instructs her to do certain things that lead to her complete mental breakdown there is this feeling that he was doing all that he knew how to help her. In the time it was written he knew no better and was following what was taught as proper care and medicine at the time. There was something extreme profound about the scene in which John repeatedly refers to her as “little girl” as talks to her in a tone I imagined to be that of which he‟d talk to a young child. He gives here constant affirmation and though it‟s not intentional to the reader it seems he doesn‟t know what to do with his wife‟s condition and treats it as if she was something inferior or less aware than he is, like many people view small children whether it‟s subconscious or not. In the last scene when he walks in on our dear narrator to find she had a complete breakdown and was ripping away at the walls he faints out of pure shock. Personally it seems that he was so confident that his wife was getting better or at least convinced himself of the fact, to see that she had only gotten worse hit him hard.
Regardless of how loving John was, he was still completely ignorant of how his wife was feeling emotionally and mentally. Which is the one thing that every male character had in common throughout each and every one of the stories, whether they choose to look past it or simply were ignorant to the fact that the inner turmoil of each these women existed. The question of whether or not they caused this turmoil varied from story to story, but the fact that there was a way each of the male characters could‟ve fixed it and ultimately didn‟t stitched each of these stories together.
In I Stand Here Ironing, Why I Live at the P.O., and The Jilting of Granny Weatherall all have a man that is selfish and completely neglects the attention that each of the women needed in some way. George stole Granny
Weatherall‟s wedding and dignity, Mr.Witaker crushed Sister‟s self esteem so greatly she could, in her mind, never compare to her dead little sister and the narrator of Ironing was left before her child was a year old to fend for a family. Even if the men weren‟t going to stay with the women, there were many things
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they could‟ve done to prevent this complete abandonment that none of them get over and in Granny Weatherall‟s case ever get over.
Revolt of “Mother” and “Yellow Wallpaper” have men that do not leave their wives, but simply don‟t understand what their actions and roles in society are doing to their loved ones. Both men end the story with an action that implies that had absolutely no idea what they were doing to the women in their lives. Adoniram thought he was providing for his family and in the time it was written what he was doing was completely acceptable and John simply practiced what he was taught in hopes to save his wife from suffering, not cause her to fall deeper into depression.
Each man in the stories hurt the women, even if the woman and man are unaware of it, like in Yellow Wallpaper. However, each man is extremely important in shaping the story and in most cases are the catalyst for all the stories. The theme is as old as literature, a member of the opposite sex does something that causes their counterpart hurt. Each of these women took an ancient concept and turned it into their story with their own technique. Some made it obvious what the man was doing to their protagonist like in Revolt of “Mother” others made it extremely subtle like in Why I Live at the P.O., but in all of them the story is there.
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3A Compare and/or contrast one of the two pairs of stories below.
How do these similarities and differences influence your reading of
these stories.:Why I Live at the P0 Eudora Welty and I Stand here
Ironing Tillie Olsen
Successful authors must have the mental stability to walk a metaphoric balancing beam with every story they write. On one hand, they want to make a story distinctive and earth-shattering because it is in these differences where a story becomes truly memorable. On the other, they want to make the story relatable because they realize that no matter how significant the idea, if the reader cannot connect to it, all is lost and they have wasted their time. Thus, what develops is a web of similarities and differences that stories share with one another. Two stories in particular illustrate these relationships; “Why I
Live at the P0” by Eudora Welty and “I Stand here Ironing” by Tillie Olsen and
show that reading these stories together strengthen the overall messages, however different, that they wish to communicate.
The perspectives these stories use play off of each other. In “Why I Live at the P0,” the narrator “Sister” recounts all the events that led to her moving into the post office that she heads. The whole story is told first person using her perspective, which in all truthfulness, is quite unreliable. The fact that the conflict is all about her family taking the side of her sister, Stella-Rondo, sends a red-flag up that says the whole narrative is going to be a defensive one, and your ideas of what actually happened will be one-sided. For instance, at the beginning of the story, Sister is attempting to convince her mother that Stella-Rondo‟s child is, in fact, hers and not adopted by saying “she was the spit-image of Papa-Daddy if he'd cut off his beard, which of course he'd never do in the world.” (1368) Then later at the dinner table, Stella-Rondo informs
Papa-Daddy that “Sister says she fails to understand why you don't cut off your beard.‟” (1369) Whether this was actually said, or not, is unclear because Sister is being defensive. The story “I Stand here Ironing” is also told in first person, but for a different reason. In this story, the mother is remembering the upbringing of her first daughter Emily and trying to figure out how despite all her downfalls as a mother, her daughter became relatively successful. The case here is the mother, instead of trying to convince us about who was right and wrong, is really just trying to remember everything that happened from Emily‟s infancy to her teenage years. The memorable line “I think I said once: „Why don‟t you do something like this in the school amateur show?‟”(1169) brings the fact that she is really is trying hard to remember the causes and effects to light. The perspectives between the two stories are similar, but the reasons the authors decided to use it is not.
Because of these similar perspectives, similar character development patterns arise, but the results are different. Eudora Welty wrote Sister‟s character to make it seem like she was the right, and her family was wrong. She even went a step further and made it seem like Sister, on the whole, was
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much more eloquent and mature than the rest of her family. She used exaggerations like when Uncle Rondo childishly “threw a whole five-cent
package of some unsold one-inch firecrackers from the store as hard as he could into my bedroom,” and Papa-Daddy‟s hot-headed name-calling (“Hussy!”
(1369)) as a foil to Sister‟s intelligence. This creates the effect that, at the end of the story, the reader feels confident that he or she can rationally side with Sister. However, in Tillie Olsen‟s story, the mother as a narrator develops into a much more believable, honest person as she builds Emily‟s character. Instead of an external conflict between right and wrong, a more subliminal, internal problem of how much the mother can accurately remember is present. Every character, then, has faults, and the mother drives this point home by saying “let her be. So all that is in her will not bloom – but in how many does
it?” (1170) By the end of “I Stand here Ironing”, the reader does not feel compelled to take a side.
The relationships between the characters become more significant when reading these stories together. Sister, in “Why I Live at the P0”, becomes more and more detached from the family. She, at the end of the story, is even living at her job, and so glad for it that she states that even if her sister came to solve the controversy, she would “simply put my fingers in both my ears and refuse to listen.” (1377) This pattern of togetherness and breaking apart is
present in “I Stand here Ironing” as well, it‟s just reversed. In this story the mother “had to leave her daytimes with the woman downstairs to whom she was no miracle at all” (1165) spending time apart from her daughter. Even
when her daughter is seven years old, she had to “send her away to a convalescent home in the country” (1167), breaking the family apart more. It‟s not until the mother realizes her daughter‟s potential when the family becomes more relatable to one another. On one of her visits, Emily even said “Whistler painted his mother in a rocker. I‟d have to paint mine standing over an ironing board.”(1170), illustrating that she understands her mother‟s situation, and possibly, that she would be so willing to transfer their relationship, like Whistler did, into her own art form. The polarity of these two relationships between the stories strengthens the meaning of each.
Neither of these stories is better than the other. Some people may appreciate one story more, some may enjoy the other. Either way, when read together, these stories are not lost in one another, but rather, because of the differences in the similarities between them, are more memorable.
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3B Compare and/or contrast one of the two pairs of stories below.
How do these similarities and differences influence your reading of
these stories.:Revolt of Mother Mary Wilkins Freeman c , and The
Jilting of Granny Weatherall Katherine Anne Porter
To start with, “The Revolt of Mother” and “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” use different styles of perspective. In “The Revolt of Mother” the exposition is done from the third person perspective with Sarah as the main character. The actions and events are centered around her, but I wasn‟t
directly reading her thoughts. “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” utilizes exposition through a third person perspective, but unlike “The Revolt of Mother” the reader is inside Granny Weatherall‟s mind. This allowed me to know exactly what she was thinking and how she reacted to situations. It keeps the reader from having to make conjectures about Granny Weatherall‟s personality; it is more or less put right on the page. Being that “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is a straightforward story not concerned so much with
conflict between characters but with Granny Weatherall herself, this perspective is most appropriate. Had I known Sarah‟s thoughts in “The Revolt of Mother” it wouldn‟t have been nearly as interesting. As I was reading I knew that Sarah was going to do something about Adoniram not building the house, but I didn‟t know what. As a reader I had to look for clues in her actions and personality and make my own conclusions about what must be going through her head.
On a related note, these different styles of perspective are necessary for the different types of conflicts the stories utilize. “The Revolt of Mother” has an external conflict between Sarah and Adoniram; “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” has an internal conflict within Granny Weatherall, so we need to
know her thoughts.
To elaborate, Granny Weatherall is at odds with death in a broad sense, but I thought that this was partially due to the fact that she had unfinished business. Most of the story is spent with Granny Weatherall recalling past events of her life, with bits of dialogue that work to show her deteriorating mental state. However, on page 1213 in the second paragraph she is talking about getting up tomorrow and putting things in order. Then on page 1217 right after she realizes she is about to die, she lists a number of reasons why she can‟t, all of them tasks to be completed.
The conflict between Sarah and Adoniram is external and concerns not only the barn being built where there was supposed to be a house, but also a power struggle. Numerous times Sarah states that she has been complacent for forty years. In response Adoniram barely acknowledges her and refuses to acquiesce. In the end, Sarah has made his barn into her home. Adoniram is also described as crying, during which Sarah comforts him. I read this in two ways: first as signifying defeat on Adoniram‟s part, and second as a type of gender reversal. Sarah has become the stoic protector. One other thing I noticed that had significant relevance to the conflict and power struggle was their son Sammy. In the beginning he is protecting his father‟s hidden agenda
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and is reluctant to tell his mother about the barn. However, on page 557 when Adoniram returns home, Sammy steps out in front of his mother and verbally defends her decision. I read this as Sammy working as a signifier of power.
These differences in styles of conflict lead to me reading the stories differently. In “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” I knew that Granny Weatherall did not want to die, but it was up to me as a reader to figure out why she did not want to die. The author created her as a character and a personality. Through the reading of her thoughts I was able to understand her personality and as a result understand her reason for not wanting to die. In “The Revolt of Mother” I understood why Sarah was at odds with Adoniram, but I wanted to know what she was going to do. Also, I think that in “The Revolt of Mother” the actions of the characters can signify more than what they are in
the story; something applicable to the human condition beyond the story in which we read of them. On the other hand, Granny Weatherall‟s thoughts almost already imply such a broader meaning. Someone‟s personal thoughts in a story are a correspondence of the human condition, especially when those thoughts concern a fact of every human life: death.
Lastly, I thought that Sarah and Granny Weatherall as main characters had similarities and differences. I thought Granny Weatherall to be a depiction of a strong willed, hard working woman that wouldn‟t let anyone interfere with anything she intended to do, but most importantly a mother. This is apparent through the sparse dialogue, but more so her thoughts we read. On page 1213 in the first paragraph, Granny Weatherall describes how hard she had worked in her years, comparing herself to Cordelia and Cordelia‟s ability (or lack thereof). The paragraph after that describes Granny‟s intent to get up and start doing housework. Another good testament to her strong will and work ethic is (as I mentioned before) the list of tasks she wishes to complete found on page 1217, right before she dies. I think these goals and tasks can be taken at face value and also read as an insight to her personality, but I also think they can be viewed as Granny Weatherall‟s way of procrastinating death, another insight to her personality. Rather than think about all the things she hasn‟t experienced in life, she thinks about all the things she hasn‟t finished.
In “The Revolt of Mother”, Sarah Penn is also depicted as a hard working, strong willed mother. Unlike Granny Weatherall, who‟s personality and character is developed by way of inner thoughts, Sarah Penn‟s character is revealed to us through actions. Specifically, the major conflict between her and Adoniram. The difference between Granny and Sarah is that by way of what I thought to be slight procrastination and denial Granny seems to avoid her conflict rather than come to terms with it. She insists on not needing a doctor, she convinces herself she can still work as hard as she used to, and on page 1215 she tells the priest that she is not dying anytime soon, in essence refusing to accept her physical condition. This contrasts with Sarah confronting her conflict head on: turning the barn into her home. Despite these differences in the final outcome of each character, I read them both as somewhat the same woman, just each in a different stage of her life. I could easily picture a younger Granny Weatherall moving into her husband‟s newly