Short Stories Analysis


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The stories within Norton anthology of short fiction present various themes under different settings and they handle some common issues and themes such as marriage and the subordination of women. This paper analyses a few aspects of these stories. The analysis presents the similarity and symbolism of houses that serve as part of the settings for these short stories. Marriage, gender and the subordination of women is also highlighted as well as the social significance of what the events within the story portray.

Descriptions of houses within the three stories Fall of the house of Usher, Yellow Wallpaper and Death of Ivan Ilych imply a sense of affluence and well being. The house of Usher is described as being melancholic, but definitely well built. The houses exterior is well landscaped and there are sedge plantings in the compound as well as some old trees and a lake (tarn) encircling the house. The narrator describes the windows as being eye-like and large. The old buildings walls are bleak, some masonry stones have began crumbling, and the walls are covered with fungus (Cummings, 1). The house has a labyrinth of numerous hallways covered with coats of arms and tapestry. The chamber of Usher is large and it has a vaulted ceiling and draperies of a dark color. The chamber has musical instruments and various books. The mere description of the size and finer details of the house of Usher portrays an old time mansion of affluence and richness.

The house implies Usher is a well to do person whose family is affluent in life. However, the poor state of the house is symbolic of the familys state of collapse that is ongoing as well as the poor mental state of Usher (Cummings, 1). The house is described as being eerie, melancholic and surrounded with an atmosphere of doom which characterizes the state of the occupants life. The house symbolizes their life at the moment. The Yellow wallpaper presents a colonial mansion equally well built and large. John (husband to the narrator) hires the mansion cheaply for their holiday, wherein she is confined to rest as a cure for her mental state. She is confined in a room with yellow wall paper that seems to annoy her at first and finally drives her paranoid due to constantly viewing the boringly repetitive pattern on the wall paper (Charlotte, 1). Her paranoia leads her to think that there is a human figure of a woman crawling behind the wall paper desiring to be released.

The colonial mansion on a hereditary estate portrays a life of affluence lived by the owners, however; the house has grown old and the narrator thinks that it is probably haunted. She thinks it is queer that the house has never been occupied for some time now. One can tell that the house is indeed well built the narrator picks on a room with antique hangings and roses on the window, but her husband declines and instead coerces her to take an upstairs spacious nursery for her rest. Despite the old nature of the house one can tell that it is a richly built antique house. The ability to get the house let to them implies that the narrator and her husband are well off. The state of the house especially the old torn, yellow wall paper is used symbolically to demonstrate the boring life of the narrator and her state of the mind (Charlotte, 1). The wall paper all over her room denotes monotony which characterizes her life of rest as a cure which is so boring because she is confined and restricted from engaging in any stimulating activities.

In Death of Ivan Ilych we are treated to an equally well built and affluent house which has spacious rooms and beautiful, expensive furniture (Sparknotes, 1). The house has a drawing room and this is suggestive of a well to do family. The house is well maintained and in a good a look, portraying the social status of the owner as a government official. The house is used to portray the useless materialistic life that the owner lived and the insignificance of a material life as a theme within the work. The settings within these stories present a lot similarity with respect to the houses occupied by the main characters and these houses seem to play a major role in the turn out of events.

These stories portray marriage in the bad light, where women subordination is brought out clearly especially; in Yellow wallpaper. The main character and narrator is in fear of her husband and she has to follow what he says unquestioningly. The husband recommends rest as a cure and goes ahead to compel her to take up a mandatory rest period in order to recover. This step is supported by her brother who is also a physician (Charlotte, 1). The story portrays a conventional middle class family in marriage with distinctions of a rigid nature that differentiate between the male active work life and the female domestic inactive roles which made women lower class of citizens. Women in marriage were kept in a state of ignorance and thought of as being childish. John thinks of himself as being superior and wise, and this leads him to making wrong decisions as he dominates and patronizes his wife.

The narrator is made to appear like a cross child who cannot defend herself and stand for her rights without appearing disloyal and unreasonable. She has no discretionary capacity to makes decisions even on trivial matters that relate to her life. This makes her retreat in to a fantasy world where she can shape her life and have freedom (Charlotte, 1). The story portrays marriage as a relationship domineered by male partners while the females are relegated to subordination. Gender is important with regard to the view of the narration because the story gives a direct revelation and first count of a woman in an oppressive relationship and society that regards women lowly. The woman explains and portrays the life of women in oppressive marriage relationships in a society that is dominated by men. Johns belittling of her wifes state and self is reminiscent of a society with great gender inequalities and the narrators view of narration helps highlight this inequality.

The narrators obsession with the wallpaper leads her gradually in to an extreme state of paranoia and she changes for the worst. She begins creeping round the room feeling trapped and she actually believes that there are many women trapped within the wall paper and struggling to be released. She ends up believing that she originally trapped in the wallpaper, but she has managed to escape and successfully crawled out. The main character changes for the worse and grows totally insane after excessive obsession with the wall paper. This change in the narrator shows how the treatment prescribed was ill informed and it also portrays the negative aspect of rest and confinement as treatment for mental disorders.

The change implies that people with mental disorders need to have a social life, interaction people and a working life that will ensure they have a positive mental turn around created from exposure to a good and conducive environment. The degeneration of the narrator into a totally paranoid person implies that the doctor (her husband) was ill informed about choosing rest as a cure for her wife despite the fact that she had objected to it. Socially, the story calls for proper doctor-patient consultation and the need to let people have a say in their lives. The narrator was totally gagged and not allowed to opine on any issue pertaining to her life or state of health. Finally, this led to her worst state where she felt trapped and finally went into accelerated mental degeneration.

The description of the wallpaper, house and the nursery room help explain and portray how the environment can affect the mental status of an individual. The wallpaper portrays the monotony that is experienced under confinement. The dilapidated nature of the colonial mansion occupied by John and his wife portrays the poor state of her mind that is having mental problems. The slow degeneration of her mental state can be likened to the slow and gradual aging of the colonial mansion.

Works Cited/Bibliography

Charlotte, Perkins, Gilman. The Yellow Wallpaper, 1899. Web, retrieved on 14th February, 2011 from

Cummings, J. Michael. The fall of the house of Usher, 2005, Web, retrieved on 14th February, 2011 from

February, 2011 from <>


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