Confluence of Prose and Poetry Term Paper

Pages: 4 (1758 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Literature

Confluence of Prose and Poetry

Women, under the auspices of a system of marriage that left this with very little recourse or power to prosper on their own often felt a sense of powerlessness that encompassed their whole mind and often showed in literature written by them. There are many examples of the kind of powerlessness that brought out within them the traits of human nature that beget powerlessness. In the case of women, as with men, violence was often the most common trait and yet, for women the very concept of violence was considered off limits and so the violence frequently became self-inflicted. "Violence comes from powerlessness, as I have said; it is the explosion of impotence."

May 53) Walker expresses this by stating that women frequently write of their guilt at having feelings of resistance, and a desire for power.

A with equal force, [as the desire for power] women reminded themselves that they shouldn't expect too much. Insofar as they desired power, they felt guilty. 35 They knew that these new opportunities were entailed, and often they reinforced their own sense of powerlessness by admitting the justice of such restrictions. Many women poets express a longing for freedom, but in an equal number of cases they reject this aspiration.

Walker 37)

As women seek to regain a sense of self and restore their innate power, they are dashed upon the cliffs of marriage, regardless of the good intentions of the husband or the father. There are two particular works, within the collection of the textbook, Making Literature Matter, which are strikingly evident of this phenomenon. The work, the Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman and Forgiving My Father by Lucille Clifton, both outline powerlessness and also demonstrate examples of self-inflicted violence.

In the Yellow Wallpaper Gillman's madwoman frequently calls to the attention of her physician husband that there is something wrong with the home where they have settled for her convalescence from a supposed "nervous condition," that all evidence suggests, simple goaded her on to independence and expression, i.e. To write down her own thoughts. (Gilman 917) Her husband seemed to see this exercise of writing as something that evidenced her inability to conform to the confines of marriage and therefore something that was unhealthy to her existence as his wife. Sadly, this puts her work in the dark, and makes it so she must hide from her husband her writing and her desires. She expresses guilt and secrets her writing away, pretending to conform, as she is slowly driven mad by the morose surroundings of the room with the yellow wallpaper, which by her descriptions was once a torture chamber for children, who were probably equally mad, as a result of their powerlessness. " -- there is something strange about the house -- I can feel it. I even said so to John one moonlight evening but he said what I felt was a draught, and shut the window. I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes I'm sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition." (Perkins 917) When she describes the wallpaper one can definitely see the nature of her madness, and the fear of being trapped within this torture chamber of a room.

The paint and paper look as if a boys' school had used it. It is stripped off -- the paper in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper in my life. One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin. It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide -- plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions. The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others. No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long. There comes John, and I must put this away, -- he hates to have me write a word. (Gilman 918)

The character's repeated attempt to both conform to John's wishes, accepting the house, that they were so "lucky" to secure for the summer and pretending not to write, or even think for herself, so as not to make herself "sicker." The heroin helplessly conforms to the madness of the house, locks herself in the room with the yellow wallpaper and precedes to go mad.

I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try. Besides I wouldn't do it. Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued." (920)

Yet, even in her madness she is not allowed to express her feelings, as suicide is not an option, as it might look bad to the neighbors. Some argue that heroine's language of madness is not a language of helplessness but the expression of her only avenue for resistance.

"Paula Treichler argues that the heroine's madness at the end of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper' is the beginning of a language of resistance. These analysts see illness not as a fulfillment of sexist stereotypes but as a way to resist them."

Herndl 6)

The transformation of the woman, from a completely helpless child to a self possessed and angry soul, can be seen in the poem Forgiving My Father. Though the character is equally helpless, she is less helpless than her mother, who has been driven to an early grave by helplessness in the face of a husband who could not earn a living enough to support his family. Lucile Clifton, born in 1937, gives the impression of a woman seeking repentance from a father who was also helpless in his ability to meet his obligations. In the work, it is Friday, the universal day to pay the bills, and Clifton, is the daughter "my mother's hand opens in her early grave / and I hold it out like a good daughter." (Clifton 314) Though Clifton does not give the answer to how her mother died it is clear that it was a result of undue struggle, resulting from her father's lies and inability to support his family. Though there is a clear difference between Gilman's work and Clifton's work they are describing the same phenomena, a complete and utter helplessness in the face of marriage and reliance upon it to survive. Walker makes the point that women of these two centuries may express their helplessness differently but it is evident nonetheless.

Twentieth-century women certainly experience a version of nineteenth-century terror, but they are less likely to express it so baldly in their poems. The ladies' magazines that nineteenth-century poets read were filled with stories of women who disregarded the strictures of patriarchal authority and came to bad ends. Ostracized and poverty-stricken, they learned the lessons of powerlessness to their own sorrow. Barbara Welter discusses the prevalence of anxiety and guilt in women's diaries. The fears she lists are numerous...Such fears suggest a feeling of powerlessness in the world. William Chafe adds another dimension to our understanding of the dynamics of fear in women's lives by suggesting that anxiety over potential male violence may be a basic component. As long as women see themselves as physically inferior to men in a world where physical struggles arise, they will be fearful.

Walker 48)

Women, are subject to a specific form of powerlessness, one they must submit to unconditionally, and have little if any recourse to strike out of, as they have no choice in a world where marriage is the only viable vocation, to seek their own success or failure.

"The will to power is different in every individual, according to Nietzsche and yet it is also clear that it exists, even in those least likely to obtain the power that drives an idea of "success," through money or influence."

Ransom 7) it is clear to most people that even those hwo are unlikely to find success, in it have a will to power and if that power cannot be realized for whatever reason the individual may be incited to violence. Though there are many cases of women actually inflicting violence on the world around them, most often it is a repression that creates the infliction of violence upon themselves.

And how does violence feel? As we will see, it feels like existential crisis, like hopelessness, like the loss of the future. It feels like impossible contradictions of resistance within oppression, like the struggle of humanity within terror. Violence… [END OF PREVIEW]

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