Friday, November 30, 2012

Down With Torture: My Paper (not very good)

Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones,
ascribe to the Lord glory and
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his
worship the Lord in the splendor of
his holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars
of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightening.
The voice of the Lord shakes the
The Lord shakes the Desert of
The voice of the Lord twists the
and strips the forests bare
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with

--Psalm 29

Cameo L. Garrett
Professor Larison
Fiction/Fall 2012
Historical Analysis Paper

“The Yellow Wallpaper” As A Protest Against Torture

I believe Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” as an allusion to electrotherapy as much as the “rest cure”. While she doesn’t disguise her belief that the rest cure does more harm than good, I think she uses her imagination about the wallpaper to describe torture and being a possible witness to torture. In one sense, being confined to bed is likened to torture, but given the fact her own doctor was known to prescribe electrotherapy to his patients as part of the “rest cure”, and because this treatment was then popular, I think she is protesting its use through her story.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in 1860 and she died in 1935. At the time of her own treatment by the psychiatric community, in 1886-1887, in the United States, psychiatry was following the ideas for electrotherapy first proposed in Europe and applied in Germany, France, and England. After electrotherapy was introduced, and used at the time of the author’s story, Italy became the first country to use “electroconvulsive” therapy which was an even more extreme form of electrical shocks. (Wright, 1988). The technology that was underlying the means for this was by significant developments in electrical currents, radiation and precursors to radiation, and electromagnetic technology.
Four men who were prominent at this time were Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz and three of his students: Wilhelm Wundt, Eihnrich Rudolf Hertz, and Eugen Goldstein. Hermann Helmholtz (1821-1894) was a doctor and a physicist who began studying physics while doing research on muscle metabolism, in 1847. He was a discoverer of electromagnetic energy (1863) and the Helmholtz equation was named after him, as was the Helmholtz coil. These demonstrate the magnetic current loop which Charlotte describes in her story later, by using descriptions about designs in the wallpaper. Eihnrich Hertz remained under Helmholtz for post-doctoral studies after receiving his PhD in 1880. “In 1883 he took a post as a lecturer in theoretical physics at the University of Kiel. He became a professor at University of Karlsruhe in 1885 where he then discovered electromagnetic waves, building upon work by Helmholz. By 1887 he was experimenting with radio waves and in 1892, the same year that “The Yellow Wallpaper” was published, he demonstrated cathode rays could penetrate thin metal foil (like aluminum). Eugen Goldstein was born in 1850 in Gleiwitz (now Gliwice) Poland. He studied at Breslau and later, under Helmholtz, in Berlin. Goldstein worked at the Berlin Observatory from 1878 to 1890. In the 1870s he studied cathode rays, and by 1886, he had discovered anode rays and named them “canal rays”.
William Wundt (1832-1920) was born in Germany ( and is considered to be father of experimental psychology and was mentored under Helmholtz. He built a laboratory in 1879 and was the first to combine the idea of psychology with medical or scientific research. He wrote a book called Jasmine Mayes in 1886 and is responsible for the famous expression: “heterogony of ends” which is to serve a different purpose than they are consciously pursuing.
Additional developments to the medical and psychics fields were quickly incorporated by the psychiatric community--Providing further evidence for Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s basis in writing “The Yellow Wallpaper”:
“Victorian asylum doctors had three main types of electricity at their disposal; galvanisim or “continuous current”; faradism or “induced current”; and frictional or static electricity, which had been in use since the 18th century, and which involved either giving the patient a “shock” by means of a Leyden jar, or insulating the patient, electrifying him, and then drawing sparks from the affected part. By the second half of the 19th century, frictional electricity was being used infrequently and asylum doctors tended to favor galvanic and faradic means of therapy (Stainbrook, 1948). Opinions differed as to the relative merits of each method and the clinical accounts suggest a trial-and-error approach with a great variation in the number of treatments given (Anon, 1871b; Allbutt, 1872; Newth, 1873; Anon, 1883b; Robertson 1884; Wiglesworth 1887). The length of a course of a treatment ranged from a few days to a few months. Electricity was usually applied in daily or alternate daily sessions, lasting 10 to 20 minutes (Stainbrook, 1948). During the session it was common practice for the electrode to be maintained in constant position during the period of electric stimulation. Stainbrook (1948) noted that over the 19th century there was a gradual “cephalic shift” in the placement of the electrodes which paralleled changes in the neurophysiological theories of mental illness. In the early years of Victorian electrotherapy, stimulation of the skin was the therapeutic goal and the electrodes were placed on the hands. However, by the latter half of the 19th century, doctors sought a more direct influence on the brain, and consequently the electrodes were placed on the head.” (Beveridge and Renzoine, pg. 157)
In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” we are introduced to the protagonist as she describes her location, and how she got there: “It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer.” (Gilman, pg. 172). These halls are like that of a Victorian insane asylum. She says, “…I would say a haunted house…” (pg. 172) and says her husband laughs off her concerns. She describes it as an English style house surrounded by English gardens and out-buildings. A few lines later, she is also mentioning there is a gate at the head of the stairs as well (pg. 176). She writes that both he and her brother are physicians and they have told everyone she is affected by “temporary nervous depression” and a “slight hysterical tendency” (pg. 173) but what can she do? They say she needs rest, and she disagrees and believes “that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.” (pg. 173). Her prescribed treatment is “phosphates, tonics, journeys, air, exercise,” (pg. 173) and no work.
“I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day…He said…I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get.” (Gilman, pg. 174). She goes on to describe the room she is given as “It was nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium, I should judge; for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls.” (pg. 174). Her room then, has bars on the windows like an insane asylum or prison, and there are rings in the walls, which she first assumes were for gymnasium reasons. She says the yellow wallpaper is pulled off in places, and commits “every artistic sin” (pg. 175), being dull and irritating, and finally destructive in contradictions (pg. 175); she says the color is both “lurid orange” and “sickly sulphur tint” (pg. 175).
This description of the paper as having a sulfuric tint is an allusion to sulfur baths given at hospitals. In addition, at this time in history, in insane asylums the feet were sometimes soaked in a bath of battery acid so the electrical charge could move up both limbs at the same time, and also at the same time of the discovery of anode rays, the electrodes which were placed on the body were called “anodes” by doctors in Britain; Galvanized electrotherapy was also used with “potassium iodine” (Beveridge and Renvoize, pg. 158-160) which may be also be a clue to why the yellow color of paper was important to the author. The treatments for psychiatry followed developments in physics: “For example, in copper refining, copper anodes, an intermediate product from the furnaces, are electrolysed in an appropriate solution (such as sulfuric acid) to yield high purity (99.99%) cathodes.” (Wiki, “Anode”)
The protagonist is there for a few weeks and is growing to like the room, all except for “that horrid paper” (pg. 176). It may mean to allude to paper for admission to psychiatric treatment or the paper that represents the treatment of many besides herself. I believe the first reference to electroshock therapy is at page 177: “This paper looks to me as if it knew what a vicious influence it had! There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down…Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two breadths didn’t match, and the eyes go all up and down the line, one a little higher than the other.” Here she refers to breadths not matching up correctly and creating uneven eyes. She later refers to breadths again as a kind of bandage which I believe she means to refer to the cloths applied to patients for electroshock, and the bulbous eyes as results of torture.
She reverts to describing the literal appearance of the room again, saying the former children ravaged it, with the paper torn in places and the floor gouged and scratched out, the plaster dug out in places, and the great heavy bed, which is all they found in that room, looking like it had been through “the wars”. (pg. 177). While she writes, “But I don’t mind it a bit—only the paper” this contrasts with her own writing that no one wants her to do (pg. 177-178). From here, it is uncertain whether the paper represents admission papers, that don’t line up correctly, or if it also refers to paper or cloths that are used to administer electroshock.
The strongest evidence that she alludes to electroshock and being chained to a bed for it, is found on the whole of page 179, “It dwells in my mind so! I lie here on this great immovable bed—it is nailed down, I believe—and follow that pattern by the hour.” This could be an allusion to being confined to a bed and, next, she may be describing currents and patterns for radiation and electricity used for electroshock, as she sees it in the wallpaper. Because the author was well-read, and because she herself went through the experience of receiving such treatment as “rest cure” by Silas Weir Mitchell, who was a proponent of electroshock (as most of the profession at the time), it is not unlikely that she would have studied science. Her protagonist states, “John says if I don’t pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.” (pg. 178). She adds, a line later, “I had a friend who was in his hands once, and she says he is just like John and my brother, only more so!” She then mentions not wanting to give him her hand, which is an allusion to the use of electrodes placed on a hand for electrotherapy. (Beveridge, pg. 160). The protagonist confirms, “I don’t feel as if it was worthwhile to turn my hand over for anything…” (Gilman, pg. 178).
The author of this story, Charlotte, would have been familiar with the latest physics and science technologies that contributed to electrotherapy (later, electroconvulsive therapy was also introduced). She writes, “I start, we’ll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of conclusion.” She begins to devote an entire section to describing the path of electrical current in the body, beginning from one end to the next, but she disguises this by using the wallpaper design as the template. She may be referring to inventions of the magnetizing current loop (Wiki, “Anode”).
Before continuing, the author makes a declaration about her own studies of electrotherapy. She studied at an art college but she uses this as a cover for describing science through the story’s character: “I know a little of the principle of design, and I now this thing was not arranged on any laws or radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of. It is repeated of course, by the breadths, but not otherwise. Looked at in one way, each breadth stands alone; the bloated curves and flourishes—a kind of “debased Romanesque” with delirium tremens—go waddling up and down in isolated columns of fatuity. But on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of wallowing sea weeds in full chase. The whole thing goes horizontally, too, at least it seems so, and I exhaust myself trying to distinguish the order of its going in that direction.”
“They have used a horizontal breadth for a frieze, and that adds wonderfully to the confusion”. A frieze is, as described by the footnote in the book, a “band” running along the top of a wall ( In this description, I believe she refers to a band across the forehead for electrical shock. This form of electrotherapy had started in Victorian Europe and was later used again in Italy (“Bini and I fixed the two electrotrodes, well-wetted in a salt solution, by an elastic band to the patients temples” as cited in Wright, 1988). At this time, Gilman would have been aware of new developments including the electric chair in New York and The Frankfurt Council of 1891 in Germany. (Steinberg; 2008, 2011).
In her story she follows the idea of the course of electrical current in a body with, “There is one end of the room where it is almost intact, and there, when the crosslights fade and the low sun shines directly upon it, I can almost fancy radiation after all—the interminable grotesque seems to form around a common center and rush off in headlong plunges of equal distraction.” (pg. 179). “A cathode is an electrode through which electric current flows out of a polarized electrical device.” Cathode means ‘descent’, way down” (Wiki, “Cathode”). The other meanings for frieze are to describe a loop, which has importance at the end of the story, with symbolism of a noose, and the country of Phrysia, from which could be derived the similarity to the word “frigid” which is what her husband seems to be.
Another admission follows: “I don’t know why I should write this. I don’t want to.” (Gilman, pg. 179). The author talks about being coddled and confined by the bed rest, digressing, and we never know her name. The protagonist is refered to “my dear”, “darling” and “little girl” (pgs. 174, 181) but not by a name. Everyone has a name except for her and the people in the wallpaper. She speaks up for those people, saying, “There are things in that paper that nobody knows about but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same , only very numerous.” (pg. 180). They are like numbers, and although she says no one will know, she is already trying to share what she knows, through her writing. She talks of their escape and how she is haunted by knowing of their attempts, “The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out.” (pg. 181).
“The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing. You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well under way in following, it turns a back somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you.” (pg. 182). Charlotte speaks of “convolutions (which is the same word origin as convulsions)”, the first long straight ray, and bars.” (pg. 182). She says these things define how it appears differently in different light. At night, the outside pattern reminds her of bars and there is a woman behind it, as plain as can be (pg. 182). Then she talks about feeling suspicious and becoming afraid of John, her husband, and his sister Jennie. She says it might have something to do with the paper—she’s caught him looking at it, and caught her with her hand on it. She says they acted surprised and said innocently not to let the paper rub off on you, but “I know they were studying that pattern”. She realizes they always knew about the pattern and pretended to her they didn’t see it. When she had figured it out, they tried to get close to her and pretend innocence. “John asked me all sorts of questions, and pretended to be very loving and kind.” “Jennie wanted to sleep with me—the sly thing but I told her I should undoubtedly rest better for a night all alone.” (pg. 186).
Then she describes seeing a form of evidence of “electroshock” at the baseboard of the wall. There is an odd smell that she can’t rid of and next “There is a very funny mark on this wall, low, down, near the mopboard. A streak that runs rounds the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a long straight, even smooch (smear), as if it had been rubbed over and over. I wonder how it was done and who did it, and what they did it for. Round and round and round—round and round and round—it makes me dizzy!”
This is similar in design to the magnetizing current loop, as demonstrated in example by solenoid (metal coil wrapped tightly into a helix) which is taken from the Helmholtz coil designed in 1886. “An anode is an electrode through which electric current flows into a polarized electrical device. The direction of electric current is, by convention, opposite to the direction of electron flow. In other words, the electrons flow from the anode into, for example, an electrical circuit.” (Wiki: “Anode”) Anode is also another word for “electrode”, which is what was placed on the bodies of patients for electrotherapy. (Beveridge, 162). She says, “I have finally discovered something at last”; She talks about the woman behind the pattern, shaking it. She thinks there are a “great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.” She says in the middle of a ray, at daytime, she is still, and at night, she is shaking. The author says, “She is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could…it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads. They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white!” She is referring to eyes becoming white, or seeing the whites of the eyes, which is to refer to the reaction to electroshock. “If those heads were covered or taken off it would not be half so bad.” (pg. 185).
The author says sometimes in the day, a woman is able to creep around the garden, and that she wants to get the top pattern off of the other one! (pg. 186). In some ways, this is an analogy to not only anti-competition and control of one group over another, but to the “sacrificial anode”, “In cathodic protection, a metal anode that is more reactive to the corrosive environment of the system to be protected is electrically linked to the protected system, and partially corrodes or dissolves, which protects the metal of the system it is connected to. As an example, an iron or steel ship's hull may be protected by a zinc sacrificial anode, which will dissolve into the seawater and prevent the hull from being corroded. Sacrificial anodes are particularly needed for systems where a static charge is generated by the action of flowing liquids, such as pipelines and watercraft.” (Wiki, “Anode”). “Anodos” in Greek, from 1831, means “ascent”, or way up for (electrons). (Wiki, “Anode”).
She says she has 2 days to get the paper off and she doesn’t like the look in John and Jennie’s eyes, so one night, she sees the woman crawling and shaking, and she jumps up to run and help her. “I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper. I believe she writes this to compare a head bandage for shock therapy: “A strip about as high as my head and half around the room.” (pg. 187).
After she begins to pull down the paper, she says Jennie lies and says they wouldn’t have minded doing it, but she shouldn’t tire herself, -- “how she betrayed herself that time!” and “she tried to get me out of the room—it was too patent!” (meaning “to patent”, the electrical torture machinery). In the morning she sees only the bedstead nailed down with the mattress on it and remarks how the children must have torn the room up because even the bed was gnawed at. She pulls off all the paper, and it stinks and “the pattern just enjoys it! All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!” Here it is implied these are demons of torture that had taken over because of the pattern, these demons that wanted to enter and inhabit the souls of the victims of the pattern. (pg. 188). When she has taken down the paper she says the women came out too, as she did. When John and Jennie go for her, she tells them the key is under the plaintain leaf. She is referring to a strip of yellow paper she pulled off, and calls it a banana leaf. She knows they treated her like she was “bananas” and lets them know she knows. Then she thinks about how she’ll have to go back to the pattern and instead, puts her shoulder to the smear around the bottom of the wall, where it has been rubbed from others going around, and she begins to creep around it. John sees her and she says, over her shoulder, “I’ve got out at last…in spite of you and Jane! And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” He faints. She has just refered to Jennie as “Jane”. She makes it clear, with her mention of banana leaves, that she has been like the others, a monkey, an ape, a gorilla, tortured in laboratory research, or experimental psychology, behind bars. If being herself means she is viewed as “uncivilized” or out of step with society, she is happy to be free. By putting her shoulder to the wall where the smear is, she is showing she is also removing the smear and smudge to her good name, and to the good names of those imprisoned falsely. He faints, because the well-hidden rope she has with her, she has tied around her own neck like a noose and it is trailing as she crawls along the wall. By this act she tells him she has escaped the anodes and cathodes and the scaffold.
The use of electrotherapy was popular in the Victorian era and then went out of fashion. (Beveridge, 1988; Steinberg, 2011; Wright, 1988). After World War II, it was viewed as an atrocity against humans, and as a form of torture to repress the will of those whose voice some didn’t want to be heard. Recently, since the 1990s, there has been renewed interest and application of electrotherapy, electroconvulsive treatment, electroshock, and other various forms of shock in medical and psychiatric fields. It has been reintroduced along with the newer technologies. In addition to this, there is new military and aerospace technology that has been employed and is in use against those that some want out of the way, for anti-competitive reasons and to assert their dominance and control.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman allegedly committed suicide in 1935, the suicide note stated she “chose chloroform over cancer”. Whether her cancer was caused by exposure to radiation or not is unknown. At the time of her death she was an activist against electrotherapy and a proponent of human rights. Her husband, Houghton Gilman, had been killed one year earlier from a sudden cerebral hemmorhage in 1934, in Norwich, Connecticut. They had been on lecture tours together as activists, living in New York from 1900-1922. Following the death of Houghton, she moved back west to Pasadena, California, where she had also worked as a prominent activist and it was here that she died. (Charlotte, Wiki, 2012).
A.D. Rockwell (Flushing, NY) and George Beard Miller (NY) developed the idea of electrotherapy in the United States, killing a horse by public demonstration with 1,000 volts of electricity. They invented the electric chair, which Rockwell stated he preferred to hanging. The first electrocution by this chair was in 1890, two years before Gilman wrote her story. (Princeton, 2011).
Electrotherapy became less popular, in the United States and in Europe, by the end of the 19th century, being disavowed by critics like Sigmund Freud, until experiencing a revival in 1938 with electroconvulsive therapy, introduced in 1938 by Italians Bini and Cerletti. It remained a popular form of experimental treatment until World War II, was denounced as inhumane and an effort to subjugate the will of others, and began to see renewed interest and acceptable in practice in the 1980s-1990s to this present day, along with newer developments in physics. (Wright, 1998).
Electrotherapy was in use before and as a part of the “rest cure” until the “talking cure” came into fashion and electroconvulsive therapy became the latest method of shock treatments, along with lobotomy. Modern defenses, justification, and rationalizations for use of electroconvulsive therapy are found as recently as 2008, with mention of the Frankfurt Council of 1891 (which disavowed electrotherapy) as marginalizing electric shock of human beings. The modern medical attempts to find excuses for continued practice of electroconvulsive and shock “therapies” proves there has been a renaissance of torture, similar to that which was found in Italy in 1938. (Oxford, 2011).

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