“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Stetson

I chose this song by City and Colour because I thought it captured the mental elements present in the story. The narrator is driven to insanity by the room and the yellow wallpaper, but I think she had problems to start with. I don’t believe she was insane, but I think there are several hints at a deteriorating mental health.

I noticed that a few times throughout the story, some of the narrator’s descriptions seems to mimic those of a mental illness. It’s subtle, but reoccurring. For example, she talks about mastering the wallpaper, but taken out of context it could easily refer to her illness.

“You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream,” (653).

Then she continues to go on about the wallpaper and how hideous it is. But I thought her language was interesting because it could easily be alluding to her physically oppressive state (by her husband) or her mental oppression (by her mind). The quote above just made me think of the way mental illnesses are often unpredictable. Someone can think they have it under control and are fine, until the illness suddenly comes back and takes over without warning or reason. That just makes the fact that she makes this statement about the wallpaper even more interesting.

There is another quote a page later where the narrator talks about the smell of the wallpaper and how it changes with the weather.

“But there is something else about the paper — the smell! I noticed it the moment we came into the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we have had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is there. It creeps all over the house,” (654)

This description too could mirror aspects of mental illness. Usually, mental illnesses can cause heightened senses such as smell. A person’ s mood can change the way someone perceives their surroundings. It’s interesting that the wallpaper only smells bad when it is gloomy out, and gloom is often associated with negative images. It could be a stretch, but I think of the way our minds can sometimes trick us into believing something that isn’t true based on elements around us. The narrator could just be associating the gloom with bad smells. And by mentioning that it creeps over the house is like the way mental illnesses take over an individual’s entire perspective. She could be seeing everything negatively because her mind is convincing her to.

 

One could even say that the imaginary woman in the wallpaper that the narrator sees is her illness. Maybe she thinks that to free this person would be to finally free herself, which is why she is so obsessive about the matter. It’s odd and creepy to think about, but in my reading of the story, it made sense to me.

“Pudd’nhead Wilson” by Mark Twain Ch. 9-12

I sort of had a hard time trying to find a song that really connects with the quotes I chose or even these chapters in general. But I ended up deciding on “Shock to Your System” by Tegan and Sara. I chose it to be in relation to Tom finding out the truth about being a slave. I felt that some of the lyrics fit the context. For example, “You got a shock to your system. Pull yourself out of it. I know that shock to your system. Knocked your heart right out of sync.”

The first quote I chose on that subject is right at the start of chapter 10.

“Every now and then, after Tom went to bed, he had sudden wakings out of his sleep, and his first thought was, ‘Oh, joy, it was all a dream!’ Then he laid himself heavily down again, with a groan and the muttered words, ‘A nigger! I am a nigger! Oh, I wish I was dead,” (117).

I found it extremely fascinating that Tom is so disturbed not by the fact that he’s been lied to about his true identity, but about the fact that he is black and Chambers isn’t. His main concern is about being treated as a slave because he was so content to act as a white man would without fear of what could potentially happen to him. He even goes as far as to take out his anger on Chambers when Chambers doesn’t know anything and hasn’t even done anything. These examples reinforce the idea that society has forced him to act in this way because of what he was taught to believe growing up. All of a sudden, he can’t even shake hands with his white friend without thinking about how strange it is that his friend would want to shake his hand. This also proves how influenced Tom is by society because he looks white, but that didn’t matter to people of the time if it meant he also had black blood in him.

One would think that after gaining this new information, Tom would have changed his behavior, but he only even thinks about it for a few weeks before going back to his old ways, which I found strange but intriguing.

“Under the influence of great mental and moral upheaval his character and habits had taken on the appearance of complete change, but after a while, with the subsidence of the storm both began to settle toward their former places. He dropped gradually back into his old frivolous and easygoing ways and conditions of feeling and manner of speech, and no familiar of his could have detected anything in him that differentiated him from the weak and careless Tom of other days,” (119-120).

It was surprising to me that Tom only took about three pages to revert back to his old ways. Perhaps it was just simpler for Tom to ignore what Roxy tells him or perhaps he doesn’t care and wants everyone to continue believing he is not a slave so that he doesn’t have to act like one. Though it’s interesting that Twain mentions the way he slips up sometimes and acts more black than white. It’s like the constant reminder to him that he is just like Roxy.

I think all of that too shows that society of the time has constructed ideals, and Tom doesn’t want to stray from these ideals for fear of how he would have to change his life. The fact that Tom goes back to his regular self is proof that it is ingrained in him how to act white. It relates to the nature vs. nurture debate, except here it’s pretty obvious that Tom was conditioned to believe certain things about slavery and what it means.

“Pudd’nhead Wilson” Ch. 1-8 by Mark Twain

I chose the song “New Again” by Taking Back Sunday as a kind of exaggerated anthem for Tom and Chambers as they get switched without knowing it.

I remember reading Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain in high school and not enjoying it all that much, so I was both hesitant and excited to read something different by him. I have to say, in only the first eight chapters, I already liked this novel a lot more.

Twain starts the novel by giving a very detailed description of the town. One of the passages he wrote states,

“Dawson’s Landing was a slaveholding town, with a rich, slave-worked grain and pork country back of it. The town was sleepy and comfortable and contented. It was fifty years old, and was growing slowly – very slowly, in fact, but still it was growing,” (57).

The town is described as sounding quiet and peaceful with not a lot of movement in or out. It has a book feel to it in that it reads as almost unrealistic and perfect, besides the fact that there are slaves, of course. With these descriptions, Twain’s town falls into the category of the Plantation Myth. The town is romanticized in its sleepy, comfortable nature, and there are nostalgic elements woven in as well. I find it most interesting that people never leave the town, and the only visitors are the boats coming through. It’s own of those small-town-everybody-know-each-other kind of places that only ever feels natural in a novel. I immediately felt the tones of abandonment with “squeaking signs [creaking] in the wind.” And the fact that this is a main street only emphasizes the loneliness of the town. All of these aspects feed into the Plantation Myth.

That myth is also present with the presentation of the characters. Plantation Myths are known for depicting slaves as childlike, innocent, and comical. Early on, Driscoll gets angry because one of his slaves steals his money. He lines them up and treats them like children, threatening to sell them down the river if they don’t fess up. And later, in describing Tom and Chambers, though they are still young, the word choices Twain uses make them seem even more childlike.

“Tom got all the petting, Chambers got none. Tom got all the delicacies, Chambers got mush and milk, and clabber without sugar. In consequence Tom was a sickly child and Chambers wasn’t. Tom was ‘fractious’, as Roxy called it, and overbearing; Chambers was meek and docile,” (77).

Mush and milk seem like foods a baby would eat. Because Chambers doesn’t get all the “petting” he turns out to be the tougher one of the two because he doesn’t have the same privilege as Tom does even though he’s actually the white one.

The switching of the children was confusing to me at first, especially since Twain uses their new names, but eventually I caught on it it and found it interesting how they both played right into their stereotypes despite the fact that they are both actually white, but one has just enough black in them to count as a slave. That was something that I didn’t know happened, and I found it strange how slaveowners were so adamant about owning slaves yet they couldn’t even tell when one child was a slave and the other wasn’t when Roxy changes them behind everyone’s back. And the fact that Roxy had contemplated killing her child so he wouldn’t have to endure the hardships and oppression of slavery really emphasized the terrible lives a  lot of the slaves led. Of course this is a whole other extreme, but it almost reminds me of the Holocaust and how some parents would take poison and feed it to their children as well so that they wouldn’t have to endure the awful treatment that came with being a Jew.

“Declaration of Sentiments” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton

For Stanton’s piece, I picked “Uprising” by Muse because I thought it captured the theme of resistance that is present. The lyrics don;t really need much explaining, but there were specific lines in the piece that I thought correlated better than others.

The first quote that I noted reads,

 “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness,” (2478).

This reminded me a bit of the previous reading where Grimke warns people not to fall into the trap of conformity and blind obedience in regard to the government or any other form of leadership. I think it’s also effective that this speak mimics the Declaration of Independence. It triggers that familiarity yet forces new ideas at the same time. Ideas that shouldn’t be new but are in the light of race and women’s rights. I actually remember covering the Seneca Falls Convention in my History 17 class my Freshman year. My professor explained how it was the first women’s rights convention and became extremely important for women’s suffrage at that time.

I think the fact that Stanton is asserting that it is the right of sufferers to refuse allegiance to an oppressive government is important because for women, this had never been an option before. Of course they all wanted equal rights with men, but it took this convention and these speeches to really spark action. The author states that the new government depends on their ideals and their principles because they should have a voice in America where it is said that everyone should be equal. This speak emphasizes how the Declaration of Independence states that men and women are equal and yet they are clearly not. But it is up to women to change that.

She also writes,

“The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world,” (2478).

Stanton blames history’s problems on man’s treatment of woman. After this quote she lists a number of examples which contribute to her argument. She says how women have had no voice in the making of laws, how women have been deprived the right to be a citizen, and how women have been seen as “civilly dead” after marriage. As is seen with other feminist pieces, women are often seen as the object of little importance except for what she can contribute to the house and to the husband. Stanton points out these examples to show how, time and time again, women have come second to man. It’s interesting to see how all these examples have had lasting impacts on the country.

Stanton continually calls women deprived. It is for these reasons that she encourages other women to stand against the government which really isn’t in favor of them like it says it is. This speak was the first of many in which women stand up for their rights within a nation of men who rule.

Sojourner Truth

This song doesn’t perfectly align with the message of the reading, but I thought enough lines stood out as connections that I could use it. For example, the lyrics talk about everybody wanting to be part of something and how the truth hurts. It also talks about how the girl the singer is referring to isn’t crazy, just a little misunderstood.

Going off of the “crazy” part of the song, there’s a line in the text that it reminded me of.

“‘Don’t let her speak, Mrs. Gage, it will ruin us. Every newsletter in the land will have our cause mixed up with abolition and niggers, and we shall be utterly denounced.’ My only answer was, ‘We shall see when the time comes,'” (2457).

I think it’s idealistic that Frances D. Gage said that in response to Mrs. Gage because he appeared to be so open with letting Sojourner Truth speak right off the bat. But of course, it didn’t surprise me that Mrs. Gage talked about how letting her speak would “ruin” them all because God forbid somebody makes a statement that touches on race and gender equality at the same time. Truth is there because it’s a woman’s rights movement, and yet people are concerned about her mixing her abolitionist words in there as well, which is ironic considering the woman’s rights movement was already looked down upon by many people. Then Gage gives Truth this difficult-to-read dialect in hopes to make it sound authentic perhaps? I’m not sure why he did it, but I found it to take away from the piece almost.

Despite the dialect, I thought one of Truth’s arguments was particularly strong.

“‘Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin’ to do wid Him.’ Oh, what a rebuke that was to that little man,” (2458).

I thought it was interesting how Truth brought her argument back to the basics that many people in society then believed in. She takes it to religion, but makes a good point. Often times feminists are critical of the Bible because of the way women are depicted, but recently there have been feminists who will also argue the opposite, pointing out the moment in the Bible where women have an important role, and here Truth does exactly that. And once again, as with some of the other texts we’ve read, there is this reoccurring theme of pointing out the hypocrisy in religion.

People read the Bible and call themselves Christian, yet they cannot even face the basic fact that women should have the same rights as men. If all of those people who claimed they were Christian actually acted in accordance with the teachings of Christianity, speakers wouldn’t have to point this out over and over again. But we see it continue to be an issue in society, and those fighting for equality are quick to point it out. I always find these arguments to come off strong, especially because they are relatable for a lot of people.

“Appeal to the Christian Women of the South” by Angelina Grimke

This song, “Roll Away Your Stone” by Mumford & Sons doesn’t immediately have an obvious parallels to the reading, but when I was looking for songs and this one came on, I couldn’t help notice certain lyrics that seems to pertain to Grimke’s argument, even if subtle or in a different way. For example, the first line “roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine” is like asking blacks and white to stop disagreeing and get along because, according to God, everyone is equal, regardless of skin color. Then there’s the line, “arkness is a harsh term don’t you think? And yet it dominates the things I see.” Here I relate it to the narrator’s vision of the world in regard to the treatment of slaves and women. Lastly, I’ll point out the last three lines, “But you, you’ve gone too far this time / you have neither reason nor rhyme / for which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine.” Maybe the author doesn’t explicitly talk about souls, but the implication here is that the you in the song refers to someone who wants to take control over the narrator, except it isn’t their right. In the same way, it isn’t the right of the white people to own blacks as slaves or marginalize women. I felt the need to explain this connection a bit further since it wasn’t quite as obvious as some of the other songs I’ve used.

Song connection aside, I really enjoyed this reading. It reminded me of “An Indian’s Looking Glass for the White Man” by William Apess. Both pieces point out the hypocrisy of Christians who are willing to marginalize a certain race even though their faith actually advises against such behavior. One of the quotes that I thought was important was when Grimke talks about the consequences of speaking out and spreading truth. She wrote,

“Peter and John might just as well have said, we will not preach the gospel, for if we do, we shall be taken up and put in prison, therefore there will be no use in our preaching. Consequences, my friends, belong no more to you, than they did to these apostles,” (2149).

Grimke is calling people to be like the apostles who preached the gospel despite what could have happened to them. She says that these excuses are exactly that. Excuses. Grimke references the Bible on multiple occasions to point out specific passages or examples of where it mentions that marginalizing behavior is wrong. She speaks this to Christians in the south where racism is most prevalent, and she does this in the same way Apess did, except that she also calls out women specifically. I also particularly like how she mentions that following the words of man rather than God is considered dangerous but that she isn’t afraid to say it anyway because it is straight from the Bible. Much like Apess, she takes this sacred text and throws it back at those people who do not act according to its teachings.

She continues on the next page saying something equally, if not more, interesting.

“If a law commands me to sin I will break it; if it calls me to suffer, I will let it take its course unresistingly. The doctrine of blind obedience and unqualified submission to any human power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is the doctrine of despotism, and ought to have no place among Republicans and Christians,” (2150).

This reminded me a lot of what Thoreau says in his piece “Resistance to Civil Government.” Grimke is calling people to stop blindly following the laws if they are dehumanizing. She is encouraging Christians to take a stand against laws that call for sinning and obedience, and I think it has a powerful message in this piece. I like that she calls it “unqualified submission to any human power” because it could relate to more than just the government. It could relate to other leaders in homes or churches or other places in society where people can be influenced. I think it still resonates today because people will sometimes blindly follow whatever is popular, and that is exactly what Grimke doesn’t want and says shouldn’t belong in our world.

I thought this piece was a good display of hypocrisy in religion, and Grimke argues back on all excuses.

 

“Incidents of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs

For Incidents of a Slave Girl, I chose the song Be My Escape by Relient k because it is all about how the singer feels trapped by someone else, and I related it to a slave’s entrapment. I thought it particularly related to one of the quotes I want to talk about as well.

In the quote, Jacobs states,

“The felon’s home in a penitentiary is preferable. He may repent, and turn from the error of his ways, and so find peace; but it is not so with a favorite slave. She is not allowed to have any pride of character. It is deemed a crime in her to wish to be virtuous,” (2343).

This line stood out to me because it’s such an interesting comparison that Jacobs make. It’s one that, unless you are a slave, you probably wouldn’t think of or consider. It also shows a side of slavery that we don’t hear about quite as often; the moral side. This shows just how insignificant the slaves are beyond what they’re in the home to do. The fact that the narrator envies a felon in prison says a lot about how the household was run. She wasn’t able to show character of be virtuous because then she might come off as trying to be something more or someone intelligent and human. As the story goes on, we see that Mrs. Flint’s husband uses the narrator’s skill of writing for his own gain. These themes have been present in past readings, and I’m sure that it will come up again in future slave narratives.

A couple pages later, there is another passage that resonated with me for similar reasons. It says,

“The tears came to my eyes; but I was soon convinced that her emotions arose from anger and wounded pride. She felt that her marriage vows were desecrated, her dignity insulted; but she had no compassion for the poor victim of her husband’s perfidy. She pitied herself a martyr; but she was incapable of feeling for the condition of shame and misery in which her unfortunate, helpless slave was placed,” (2345).

I recall being relieved that Mrs. Flint was taking the narrator’s side when she first began to cry until I realized that it was for her own sake. Then I was irritated, yet not entirely surprised. This shows more about the household that the slave is living in. Even when she goes through something traumatic and emotional, her masters are only thinking about themselves. Their reputation is more important than a slave, and even when the narrator says that perhaps the woman had some feelings for her, I didn’t believe they could be genuine because of her initial reaction.

It appears that the narrator shared the same feelings as I did because she thinks, “but my experience with slavery had filled me with distrust,” (2345). It is sad that she cannot trust anybody simply because of her oppression as a slave. The slave even says that she doesn’t blame her mistress which only reinforces the idea that the slaves were beginning to believe some of the negative views that had been thrust upon them. This would also be a contributing factor as to why slaves are discouraged form having character or a voice. If they started to act out against these views, they would not be treated fairly at all.

These were two moments that really stuck with me in the text because of the emotions they evoked in not only me but the narrator.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” Part 1

For this part of Stowe’s novel, I’m focusing on Eliza’s runaway with her son Harry.

This seemed to fit the circumstances.

In these readings, there were several moments where I was reminded of The Scarlet Letter (besides the branded H on Eliza’s husband). When Eliza first runs away with Harry, she appears to suddenly have this supernatural feeling that takes over her.

“‘Yes, sure!’ said the mother, in a voice that startled herself; for it seemed to her to come from some spirit within, that was no part of her; and the boy dropped his little weary head on her shoulder, and was soon asleep. How the touch of those warm arms, the gentle breathings that came in her neck, seemed to add fire and spirit to her movements!”

Hester had occasionally felt that there was something mysterious inside her, and the fact that Eliza and her son are seen as outcasts is just another similarity to Hester and Pearl. This supernatural feeling allows Eliza to carry on her run and not have to worry about his weight slowing her down. This spirit inside of Eliza could also be something like adrenaline or motherly instincts, but the fact that it’s described as a “spirit within” makes it hard not to imagine it’s the same kind of fantastical feel that was present in The Scarlet Letter. 

It’s also interesting that though Harry is at the age where he could technically be walking along side his mother, Eliza insists on carrying him so that there is no chance that they can be separated. She holds him to her bosom, which again reminded me of Hester and Pearl. There isn’t much mention of a father until a little bit further into the story either.

There’s also a moment where Harry questions Eliza as if he isn’t sure about her judgment. When Eliza tells him that she won’t let him go, Harry asks, “You’re sure, an’t you, mother?” This goes to show the fear they were both forced to live in because of their situation as slaves.

Later, Haley, their pursuer, sees Eliza jump the bank and says,

“‘The gal’s got seven devils in her, I believe!’ said Haley. ‘How like a wildcat she jumped!'”

Haley may have been referring to Eliza when he said this, but the mention of the devil was one more similarity to Hester and Pearl. Pearl was continuously called the “demon child” and other negative names. Not the same is happening to Eliza.

At this point, Haley is the main antagonist of the story, chasing Eliza and Harry and imposing fear into their lives. Earlier, he and Shelby were discussing what it is to be inhumane, and I think Haley is representative of the more inhumane slave owners. He doesn’t mind saying that Eliza holds seven devils, and he doesn’t mind ripping her away from her son. He sees slaves not as human, but as business deals. He cares enough to go after Eliza and Harry even after they’ve fled far away from their master.

Emily Dickinson Poems (2/2)

I chose “Honest” by Kodaline because the entire song is basically about honesty. It’s exaggerated, but it still reminded me of the Dickinson poem, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant–”

That particular poem is short and seemingly simple, yet it holds a lot of meaning for interpretation, and though I read it multiple times, I’m still not entirely sure what she means by the line “Success in Circuit lies.” Aside from that line though, I think what Dickinson is trying to say is that we should always tell the truth but that we shouldn’t say it outright. She writes,

“As Lightning to the Children eased / With explanation kind / The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind–“

I really like the lightning imagery that she uses to describe how sudden and bold truth can be blinding. She believes that unless we tell truths gradually, we will be dazzled by it just as young children are with lightning before it can be explained to them. This idea ties back to the first line nicely.

This poem is also important because of the slant rhyme which can be seen in this poem as well as many of her other poems as well.

In another poem, Dickinson criticizes public figures or celebrities while claiming to be “Nobody!” Except Dickinson actually prefers to be a nobody than a somebody because it lets her keep her sense of self. She doesn’t have to try to impress anyone or go around in the public light repeating the same thing over and over. Dickinson writes,

“How dreary–to be–somebody! / How public–like a Frog– / To tell your name–the livelong June– / To an admiring Bog!”

In both poems, she still uses features of nature to make her points, such as the frog and lightning. At first I didn’t understand why she would use a frog, but then I understood that the public figures are like frogs in that they are constantly repeating themselves, specifically their names. They want everyone to know who they are, and everyone is asking who they are as well. Dickinson would prefer to be left alone with her anonymity, and her excitement at the possibility of finding another individual like herself is satirical in  light of what she’s criticizing.

Again, she capitalizes certain letters in both poems, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s a stylistic element like the persistent dashes.

Emily Dickinson Poems (1/2)

I chose this song, Silhouettes by Of Monsters and Men, for Emily Dickinson mostly because of the repetition of the line “I’m already there” and “I will be there too.” It reminded me to the line in J. 324 where she is talking about finding God in nature rather than in church and says, “So instead of getting to Heaven, at last– / I’m going, all along.”

In this poem, Emily Dickinson seems to be criticizing religion and the church. She states that while many will go to church on the Sabbath, she’ll be staying home. At first it isn’t completely clear what she means by “home,” but as the poem continues, it becomes obvious that she is referring to nature as her home. Like many of the transcendentalists, Dickinson believes that it’s better to find the divine in nature because you only have to rely on yourself to find happiness instead of listening to a priest.  She uses the birds in the first stanza as a metaphor for the singing of a choir in a church, and says how she would prefer to listen to the birds. I found the bird imagery especially interesting when I got to the second stanza where she says, “I just wear my wings–” I didn’t know what it meant at first, but it could be interpreted as being another nod at nature, but it’s important that she uses a bird because it can fly. The flying must be how she’ll get to Heaven. The wings emphasize the fact that the narrator has been ready “all along.”

The bird metaphor could also be applied to the church bell ringing, though the narrator would rather hear the chirping of the bird, God’s own creation, than the bells. Then in the fourth stanza she criticizes the long sermons from the clergyman. All of this leads up to her final statement about going to Heaven all along. Dickinson is confident that because she found the divine in nature which is closer to God, she is guaranteed into Heaven. This theme of nature appears in several of her other poems as well.

A few pages later, poem J. 441 also deals with nature. In small groups, we referred to the poem as Dickinson’s ode to nature. It seems as though Dickinson wants to share the message and beauty of nature with the world who has given her nothing back. Perhaps she feels insignificant in society, and so she could online confide in nature and then wants to share what it has told her. And for what she says, she hopes nobody will judge her.

Though perhaps this could also be interpreted another way. It seems like Dickinson is almost writing a disclaimer here for people who will read her poetry in the future. Her plea, “Judge tenderly–of Me,” sounds almost like an apology for her words, which goes to show how people of the time thought about nature. It’s also interesting that she capitalizes words such as “Me,” “Message,” “Her,” and “Sweet” which aren’t words that would typically be capitalized in poetry. What is she trying to convey by doing this? I’m not sure.