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A Timeless Work Of Art

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1530 words Published: 1st May 2017

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Universal has many associations as to what it means, generally concluded to mean that it can be commonly used, with vast potentials and a capability to satisfy many different occurrences. As so, when reading a work of art, whether it be a poem, novel or short story, the author will try to capture the reader in as many ways as possible to ensure that the point is portrayed, the message conveyed, thus, making the work “universal” to any one particular reader. There are several ways this can be achieved, but it will take two equally proportioned halves to achieve this “universality”. The writer must first, have an unambiguous imagination and an uncanny ability to illustrate, in words, the feelings and emotions that will become the theme of the work. This is not an easy mission, for it must endure one of the harshest trials acknowledged by man-time. For a work to be considered “universal” it will have to become “timeless.” Meaning that the work must be able to relate to its reader no matter the span of time between when the reader reads it and the time it was written.

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The second half of the equation will rely solely on the reader, and their ability to pay attention to detail. When the reader does this, they acknowledge the skill in the work, and likewise are able to see the underlying theme intended by the writer. When both of these come together, when the work can relate to anyone, anywhere, at any time, it will truly be considered a “universally timeless work of art”. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” written in 1892, was able to flawlessly establish this “timeless universality.” As one thoroughly reads her story, despite their time period, they can almost envision themselves in the story, feeling and understanding the context in which she intended. Given these points, Gilman uses the setting to provide the reader with an almost perfect visual, to help them see and experience the concrete details, making them feel as though they were there first hand, only to be complemented with a flavorful narrative lens, providing a plethora of symbols and a unique behind the word’s insight that becomes calibrated into a “universal” theme; clearly demonstrating this work as “universally timeless.”

The setting is one of the hardest but most important elements to be portrayed in a work. To be able to capture the audience and make them feel as one with the work is the start of the ability to exact the intended feelings imbedded in the story. Gilman uses many concrete and descriptive words to entice the reader to imagine themselves there. Like here when describing the color of the walls in the bedroom, “the color is repellent, almost revolting: a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others” (722). The usage of descriptive words allows readers, who have never entered this room, to imagine the make-up of the walls. Later she describes the floors as “scratched and gouged and splintered, the plaster itself is dug out here and there,” again letting one imagine these floors and their hostile appearance. The setting throughout this story is ever-changing, aiding in the internal conflict of the narrator but also in the way the symbols and themes are exposed.

Once the reader is involved completely in the setting of the story, the narrative lens can then be applied to show the hidden symbols and their vast potentials. Since the setting is a way for the author to imbed symbols into the story, it is imperative for the reader to acknowledge the setting of a story. As with the story at hand, analyzing the setting unlocks symbols throughout the story that are considered crucial to the “timeless” theme of the work. As the author describes the setting of the story, mainly the narrator’s room, she lends the narrative lens, to the reader. For example, as the narrator is expressing her view of the wallpaper, the symbol of a woman entrapped behind the paper, becomes evident. “She crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over,” explains the narrator, later she says “and she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern-it strangles so” (729). Here the author is using symbolism to make the analogy of the woman in the wallpaper to the women in her present day society, including her. Another symbol was the moonlight to daylight correlation. Towards the later half of the story, the author only writes about nighttime events that take place while everyone else is asleep. Her reasoning for sleeping throughout the day is that “most women do not creep by daylight,” and that “it must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight” (729). This is implying that while at night, she can be herself and not be judged by society or John. She feels that John would be displeased if he knew she was “creeping” so she only does it when he is asleep. These two examples are just some of many, but these two also help define the theme of the story.

The narrator was victim of the 19th century suppression of women, and during this time period, women were trapped behind society’s wallpaper, they were not allowed to be themselves, they existed strictly to satisfy males. The “creeping” mentioned earlier is nothing more than her free will. The narrator felt she had to hide it from John because for women to think for themselves was absurd at this time. In fact, it was so absurd that if a female were thought to be displaying their own thought process, society/John, would label/diagnosis them as mentally ill. A women’s purpose was to do as they were told and be exactly what was expected of them. After a while of trying to survive under these conditions, the narrator finally begins to realize this oppression; she can now identify completely with the woman and is convinced that she, too, is contained by the wallpaper. But no matter how much these women climb and shake the boundaries of their entrapment, it’s of no use. It soon becomes apparent that the only way out, is thru, and that’s exactly what happens in the end. Throughout the last few nights, while the narrator creeps around the room tearing the wallpaper down, she believes that she is releasing herself from the grasp of the wallpaper, thus the entrapment of society (730). Looking at the setting’s symbols through the narrative lens reveals the theme universal and timeless theme that no matter the efforts to hold, retain, block, or obscure one’s aspiration, never let it. Fight, show resilience and determination to free one’s self from those binds and cages. While the fight for freedom is never easy and frequently the way out is unclear, the solution is always the same, no matter what the wallpaper is, never allow it to confine you or your desires.

In contrast, some may argue that anything can have an alleged significance and theme if it is examined long enough, that if one wants it to be there bad enough, they will find a way to make it appear. They will argue that with all the symbols in the story pointing towards the 19th century oppression of women that there is no way it could relate to present day. Since women have every right a man does then this story is old news, far removed from the current time. Becoming inclined to think that the setting of the story locks it in the time it was written would be distasteful by the reader. To ignore all the symbols and uses of the narration, to refuse to see that the setting unlocks the theme and that the theme is not simply women’s rights but the rights of everyone being oppressed, would be unreasonable.

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Gilman wrote this story to let everyone know the suffrage and entrapment she endured during this time period. To tell the world, for generations to come, about the trials and tribulations these women had to face. She wrote the story not only to tell a story about her time and experience but also to offer a way out for others who may find themselves trapped behind their own type of wallpaper, whatever it may be. She knew society would wander on, through time, labeling and judging people. Knowing this, she recognized it to be only fair to write her story in anticipation for generations to come. So people could read it and relate it to their very own vast occurrences in life. That people could “universally” use the theme, no matter their time period, and apply it to their situation. Gillman’s “universally timeless” theme truly steps out of the captivity of words, a story, or even time, and into the realm of a work of art.

Work Cited

Gilman, Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Exploring literature: Writing and Arguing about Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. Ed. Frank Madden. 4th ed. NY: Pearson Longman, 2009. 720-731. Print.


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