The Withered Arm, The Melancholy Hussar and The Yellow Wallpaper
The tragic events at the end of the three short stories “The Withered Arm” by Thomas Hardy, “The Melancholy Hussar” also by Thomas Hardy, and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, are not the consequence of any one cause in particular. There are many different causes that could explain the tragic events, and these will now be investigated.
A woman’s activities and learning completely depended on how well off they were; whether they were a rich lady or a poor woman. In Hardy’s “The Withered Arm” and in another of his books “The Melancholy Hussar”, we see examples of both: Gertrude Lodge and Phyllis are the well off ladies, and Rhoda Brook is the poor milkmaid. They didn’t choose what they wanted to be, they were just born that way.
There are clear differences between a lady and a woman: a poor woman was not educated (which was very bad in the 1800s), but the rich lady was educated (but only on the skills that she would need to help her get a husband); the poor woman married a working man for a better money income and chose who she married, but a rich lady would usually marry someone that her father chose. By these two facts, it is clear to see that women were simply thought of as possessions of men, nothing more.
This is illustrated in Hardy’s “The Melancholy Hussar”: she considered herself “likely to become a possession of another”. Wealthy men had to go through a lady’s father even to make her acquaintance: “made her father’s acquaintance in order to make hers”. Rich women hired poorer women to work for them as housecleaners and maids. This is an example of how class was considered to be important in Victorian society. In “The Withered Arm”, the tragic event which was Rhoda’s son’s execution is a consequence of society’s division of classes.
Rhoda’s son was poor, like Rhoda herself, thusly putting him in the lower class. This is reflected in the clothes that he wore. Gertrude brings a new pair of boots round for him because his old ones would “not keep my feet dry if it came on wet, because they were so cracked. ” The state of his clothes signifies his class. Presumably, the people who had ‘caught’ Rhoda’s son were fairly wealthy. Therefore, it is possible that they may have jumped to the conclusion that since he was a poor, lower class boy, he must have been doing something wrong.
The second tragic event at the end of “The Withered Arm” is Gertrude’s death. There is somewhat of a mystery of how she died. It could have been the impact of her being thrown against the wall, or it could have been the medical ‘cure’ she was attempting that could have killed her. Her choice to attempt this cure was influenced by society and by her own personality and character. She is a very pretty lady: “rosy-cheeked, tisty-tosty body” and this is what attracted Farmer Lodge to her.
But when she got the skin discolouration, her own personality makes her take measures against it. She is very eager to please Farmer Lodge: “hoping against hope to win back his heart again by regaining some at least of her personal beauty” and when their relationship gets worse and worse because of Farmer Lodge’s obsession, she tries to regain her beauty by any means necessary. This is also brought about by society’s reaction. Since Gertrude is in the higher classes, she is held in better respect than, say, Rhoda. Therefore, society expects a pretty, intelligent lady.
When she gets the skin discolouration, society doesn’t have the pretty lady anymore. Gertrude becomes more desperate and finally, on Conjuror Trendle’s advice, she goes to try one last cure: placing her discoloured and disfigured arm on the neck of a hangman just when he has been cut down. Rhoda appears when Gertrude is conducting the cure and then throws her against the wall. In a way, it is Rhoda’s fault also that Gertrude died. Rhoda had plenty of reasons to be angry with Gertrude. Gertrude came along and married Farmer Lodge, taking Rhoda’s place as it were.
She caused Rhoda to have the vision in which Rhoda grabbed her and threw her to the ground and, to top it all off, Rhoda now finds her with her disfigured arm on her dead son. It pushed her over the limit and caused her to react with violence. The tragic event at the end of “The Melancholy Hussar”, is the shooting of Matthi?? us Tina and his friend Christoph Bless. The actions of Phyllis and her personality explain why they were shot, but society can explain Phyllis’ personality. Phyllis Grove is extremely isolated and secluded living with her father in a “half farm, half manor-house”.
The mention of a manor house suggests that she is wealthy and a member of the higher classes of society. Society enforces the characteristic that all high-class ladies should have a husband. She was being ‘owned’ by her father, as it was with all daughters and fathers. She had not yet got married because she does not want to become “a possession of another”. However, she ends up falling for and getting engaged to marry Humphrey Gould, which was not socially common considering that he was of lower class than her. He had to leave town for a while to tend to his sick father because there were no other relations nearer.
He promised he would “return to Phyllis in a few weeks”. However, these few weeks pass, followed by the next season but he didn’t return. Phyllis was not very inquisitive when the German Hussars camped near to the town, because she became very shy living in seclusion in the manor house: “became so shy if she met a stranger… she felt ashamed at his gaze, walked awkwardly, and blushed to her shoulders”. She came to know a German Hussar called Matthi?? us Tina because he frequently walked past a wall on which Phyllis usually sat.
She reproaches herself for believing the hearsay. The failed escape attempt got Matthi?? us and Christoph captured. They were tried for court-marshal and then shot as deserters. If Phyllis had stayed and gone with Matthi?? us then he may not have been caught. The pressure on her from society to do the right thing cost Matthi?? us, Christoph and the two companions their lives. The tragic event at the end of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the main female becoming insane and completely losing her mind. Society is primarily to blame for this, but also so is her husband John.
The main character is apparently ill, according to her husband John who is a physician. She takes tablets and steroids but nothing is working very well. They rent out an old house to live in for 3 months whilst the old one is refurbished. The main character is forced to live in a room for these 3 months with horrible yellow wallpaper. She is a member of the high class in society. This is attainable due to the amount of technical terms, for example, that she using whilst describing the wallpaper: “debased Romanesque… delirium tremens… isolated columns of fatuity”.
She never leaves the room for most of the three months and is forbidden to do practically everything by John. This is basically what is called the Rest Cure which was developed by Silas Weir Mitchell, an American physician who became famous for his work on nervous disorders. Patients of the Rest Cure were usually condemned to bed for six weeks to two months. They are not allowed to sit up, sew, read, or write. They are only allowed to clean their teeth, and sometimes they were not allowed to turn over by themselves. Silas did this because he found no motion desirable.
In these cases, the patient is lifted out of bed in the evening onto a couch and given a sponge bath. The main character in “The Yellow Wallpaper” was allowed to get out of bed and walk around a bit, but was told not to read or write by John her husband. Still, she wrote down what is read in the story and keeps it hidden from him. In all cases of weakness, a nurse fed the patient. In many cases, Silas allowed the patient to get out of bed to go and use the toilet.
After about a fortnight, Silas would allow the patient to read one to three hours a day, and frequently nervous and anaemic women jumped (not literally! at the chance. He says in a written account of himself: “The moral uses of enforced rest are readily estimated. From a restless life of irregular hours, and probably endless drugging, from hurtful sympathy and over-zealous care, the patient passes to an atmosphere of quiet, to order and control, to the system and care of a thorough nurse, to an absence of drugs, and to simple diet.
The result is always at first, whatever it may be afterwards, a sense of relief, and a remarkable and often a quite abrupt disappearance of many of the nervous symptoms with which we are all of us only too sadly familiar. The Rest Cure and the way that John her husband has acted to her illness are examples of how men have authority over women. The main female becomes more and more interested with the yellow wallpaper, slowly discovering new things about it. Her mental condition continues to worsen and she starts to think that she can see people behind the wallpaper, a woman, trying to get out. This woman could be a representation of the main character in society. Trapped, and unable to break free of all the laws and regulations.
Eventually, she becomes nearly completely insane due to her being trapped in he room for three months, having to constantly look at the yellow wallpaper. She starts tearing bits off, trying to free the women behind, but also to get rid of it because it was driving her insane. At the end of the story, the main character loses her mind and speaks as though she was the women she had seen behind the wallpaper, and she had finally got out and couldn’t be put back: “I’ve got out at last… I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back! “