Isolation within The Yellow Wallpaper, Miss Brill, and Once Upon a Time

The French artist Joseph Roux once said that “Solitude vivifies, but isolation kills”. Many things have a negative impact on society; one of these things is an individual being isolated. This will not only have a negative effect on society but also on the person being isolated. In three short

stories; Miss Brill, Once Upon a Time, and The Yellow Wallpaper the three main characters are each isolated each one being isolated for different reasons. These isolations have a negative impact on the person directly and also the people around them. In Miss Brill the main character is isolated from society because no one seems to notice her, this drives her to live in her own little fantasy world and view the world as a giant play. In the story of Once Upon a Time the main characters isolate themselves from the outside world because they are afraid of what is going on around them, this inadvertently causes them to be killed by what they thought would be protecting them. The Yellow Wallpaper deals with a woman who seems to be suffering from post-partum depression and has been put on a rest cure that supposedly cures the patients of this depression but seems to have a negative effect on the person by causing them to go insane.

In the story Miss Brill has a fur that she relates to as if it was a friend of hers “Dear little thing! It was nice to feel it again. She had taken it out of its box that afternoon, shaken out the moth powder, given it a good brush, and rubbed the life back into the dim little eyes. This fur serves as a symbol of her inner child as well, when she places it back in the box it’s as if she hears a faint little cry.

In Mansfield’s Miss Brill the main character copes with her isolation from the rest of the world by creating her own little fantasy world. ‘And now Miss Brill reaches the top of the hierarchy of unrealities. She literally believes she is an actress, a not unimportant one, in a splendid play? Every Sunday, Miss Brill emerges from her home to involve herself in as many lives as she possibly can. Her day commonly involves her taking a walk through the Jardins Publiques, stopping to watch and listen to the band that plays under the gazebo, watch and eavesdrop on the people around her, and after the day has come to a close she stops off at a bakery to purchase an almond cake.

Miss Brill’s most common activity consists of eavesdropping on the people around here attempting to view everything as a play, this eavesdropping is the only contact that Miss Brill has with people. We see the world through Miss Brills eyes and how she sees the world giving us a good insight on just how isolated she really is. Even though Miss Brill does not actually have a conversation with the people she watches she tries to convince herself that she has some minimal amount of meaning to them. To Miss Brill life was exactly like a play, everyone was on a giant stage.

In the story Miss Brill has a fur that she relates to as if it was a friend of hers, This fur serves as a symbol of her inner child as well, when she places it back in the box it’s as if she hears a faint little cry.

She saw everyone as actors. Miss Brill is always trying to find some way to keep herself entertained but some things seem extremely boring. Even her part was important to her so she made an appearance every Sunday. She thought for sure that someone would notice if she wasn’t there. This is Miss Brill’s major flaw she tries to convince herself that she has some sort of actual meaning to the people around her when they, in reality, don’t socialize with her and don’t think any more of her then just a common elderly woman in the park. Miss Brill constantly attempts to raise herself to the standard of the people around her. She is constantly trying to make it seem she is just as important or even more important then the people around her. When she finally realizes that no one around her really cares for her and she just lives a dull little life her world comes crashing down around her. To the people that regularly attend the park Miss Brill might be considered an actress. Attempting to eavesdrop on there conversations while thinking she is un-noticed, could in fact be considered quite comical to the people that attend the park. She gives off many signals to the people around her when eavesdropping whether it is a rising of the head or a tearing of the eyes. It can almost be said that she is being watched by the people at the park just as much as she is watching them. In a lot of cases what is meant to help someone can actually turn out to hurt them, this is the case in The Yellow Wallpaper. When we have the intent to do something positive it will not always turn out a positive effect, just because the intention is positive does not mean the effect will be also. The “Yellow Wallpaper” is an example of such a situation. In The Yellow Wallpaper the narrator is locked up in a room which is covered in this hideous yellow wallpaper, this is supposed to be a cure for the woman, whom is suffering from post partum depression. The narrator’s husband, a physician believes that his treatment will help his wife and forces her into the room. This treatment, however, does not serve to help her but rather serves as another hindrance and only worsens her condition.

Under the instruction of her husband, the narrator was moved to a house miles from civilization in the isolated country, where she is locked into the hideous room on the second floor. This room does not seem to freshen her mind but seems to dull it further and drive her further into a repressed state. During her stay in the room the door is locked and the windows where already barred upon arriving to the house. Being exposed to the room’s yellow wallpaper only serves to further her depressed state and drive her further and further into the depths of insanity. Throughout the story the hideous wallpaper acts as the antagonist of the story. There is nothing to do in the secluded room but stare at the wallpaper. The narrator tells of the scattered pattern as having no organization. Her constant examination and reflection of the wallpaper causes her to over think things and go further insane.

This treatment calls for isolation has a repressive factor .The narrator did not believe isolation would cure her disorder. Social contact and outside stimulation was her desire. She was cut off from society and not allowed to see her baby. It is not natural nor is it recommended to be cut off from society for such a long period of time. Society provides an array of different sights, sounds, feelings and stimuli to the people who inhabit it. Going without human contact is not what is meant for people to be exposed to. To fulfill her need to be near people she invents a person she thinks lives inside the wallpaper. The image of a woman is clearly an effect of delirium on the narrator from prolonged isolation. Her psychosis becomes so in depth that she becomes involved with her imagined character. In a frantic action the now malfunctioning narrator began to try to free the women from behind the wallpaper’s pattern. She destroys yards of the wallpaper. The treatment contributes to her impending mental demise she is first diagnosed with a minor nervous disorder. On her last day of treatment she is participating with hallucinations as if they are real. This obviously shows that the appointed cure only serves to fortify the minor illness.

The negative qualities of the rehabilitation regimen cause her to go insane. Towards the end of the story, the narrator is delirious and constantly creeping around the room. Her husband goes into the room and upon seeing his wife in a deranged state creeping through the torn wallpaper falls on the floor and faints. Clearly this treatment is issued with good intentions, but fails to bring about positive results. The lack of social exposure, physical repression, and ugly wallpaper causes the treatment to be very ineffective and detrimental. The room is the main cause of her delirium with the psych ward like details.

When Nadine Gordimer was asked to write a children’s story, she replied with a short story titled ‘Once Upon A Time’. Although the title is common of a fairy tale, the tale ends in something other then the common happily ever after. Gordimer distorts the fairy tale by dealing with certain issues in society rather than giving the reader the usual fairy tale characteristics. The first story seems to give insight to how the main story came about. Three of the more significant issues Gordimer likes to deal with in her story are racial discrimination and prejudice, society’s insecurities, and the way isolation works on the human mind. Gordimer’s ‘Once Upon A Time’ has the feeling of insecurity right away. In the first part of her story, Gordimer reminds us of our own insecurities. She brings up a familiar situation in which one is awakened by a bump in the night and cannot go back to sleep because of fear or their own insecurities. Gordimer writes that she has no burglar bars, no gun under the pillow, but I have the same fears as people who do take these precautions. So, to better convey this issue of society’s insecurities, she tells herself a bedtime story.

In the story, there is a family who is living happily ever after, yet is seems it is all that they can do to keep it that way. Rather than putting their insecurities aside and getting on with their lives, they feel that they must put their trust in security devices to protect their selves, thus isolating themselves from the outside world. For a short while, the family has a sense of security by posting a plaque stating YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED over the silhouette of a prospective intruder. After a short time the family’s psychological need for more security calls for a number of new security devices in order to sustain the top level of security. It is in the family’s pursuit of this ‘security’ that they virtually imprison themselves. After the family has had burglar bars installed, Gordimer now describes the view from each window as looking at the sky and trees through the bars.

The language Nadine Gordimer uses in her story is reminiscent of children’s stories and fairy tales. First of all, the title, Once Upon A Time, is the epitome of a fairy tale; it is the most familiar opening line. The language she uses is simplistic, the story is full of simple vocabulary, and has very simple sentence structure. The author also makes use of repetition. The phrases, HAVE BEEN WARNED, and living happily ever after are repeated several times throughout the story. This simplistic language is often seen in fairy tales because it makes them easy to understand. Gordimer’s story shows how foolish it is to isolate yourself based on just a fear of the outside world.

Through these three stories we see how bad isolation can affect our everyday lives. The subject of isolation can cause us to suffer form an extreme delirium greater then any disease that it is trying to cure, it can serve to create a fantasy world in which someone can live until that world is brought down around them, and lastly it can serve as a destruction to someone’s life because they are afraid of what can happen to them in society. Isolation definitely has a negative effect on society and the people within it, the extent of this effect can depend on a number of factors such as the people the isolation is affecting, the situation under which the isolation is administered, and even the psychological stability of the person being isolated. People who are isolated can never benefit from this isolation but it can only serve as a hindrance to them.

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