Women, Madness And Oppression (Or: Perspectives Of Madness In Women’s Literature” Essay, Research Paper
Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through. It is potential liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death.
–Fiorello La Guardia, Politics of Experience
What a weak barrier truth is when it stands in the way of a hypothesis.
–Mary Wollstoncraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women
Whom the Gods destroy they first make mad.
Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent and you are sane;
Demur ? you’re sraightway dangerous
And handled with a chain.
To the ancient mind, madness was assigned by the Gods as punishment for human weakness, vice and transgression. Cassandra, daughter of King Priam, was punished by the god Apollo; her foresight and accurate predictions were considered by the inhabitants of Troy to be no more than the ludicrous rantings of a madwoman. This notion of insanity prevailed throughout the Western world well into the nineteenth century where madness was thought to result from various biological and spiritual improprieties. With the birth of modern psychology, male institutions of government, law and literature found an important ally. Following the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 and the subsequent growth of the universal suffrage movement, women across the country began to push the limits of the cultural constraints in which they had been bound, disregarding the austere Victorian rhetoric of the times. Insanity, madness, neurosis and other mental, emotional and psychological disorders became the overwhelming response to their independence, intelligence and resignation. “Men, in general,” wrote Mary Wollstoncraft in 1792, “seem to employ their reason to justify prejudices?rather then to root them out.” The number of cases of hysteria and other nervous disorders reached its peak in turn of the century England and America. By the year President McKinley was shot, hysteria and other disorders of the brain were affecting women at nearly epidemic levels.
Given the rapid changes and modernization of the 1800’s, the second industrial revolution in American and Europe, the creation of the telegraph in 1844 and the telephone 32 years later in 1876, early-psychology spread with tremendous speed. An increasingly literate, educated and mobile society made certain the dissemination of psychology across Europe and throughout the cultural centers of the United States. New waves of psychological literature attempted to explain the rift between the sexes. Couched in terms of the human mind these works touted a justifiable form of discrimination against women who could not, for the most, hope to break through the traditionally male field of science. While psychologists and physicians such as Freud and Krafft-Ebing promoted gender-based models of the human mind, authors such as Charolette Perkins Gilman, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Kate Chopin and Sylvia Plath explored the influence of male medicine on the lives of women. Examining these two classes of works gives important insight to the differences between the patriarchal view of madness and the its reality as it affected hundreds and thousands of women in America and abroad while demonstrating the use of psychology to disenfranchise and subjugate women everywhere.
Medicine and Madness: Krafft-Ebing and Freud
In 1895, German scientist Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing began a study of psychosis in women . Most specifically, Krafft-Ebing was interested in coming to a detailed understanding of congenital homosexuality ["congenial" homosexuality is another topic altogether. ?JCH], a disorder that in the terms of turn of the century America, “infected” hundreds of women. Independence and self-confidence primarily characterized homosexuality in women . In addition, homosexual women sought the company of other women as social or intellectual partners rather than the comfortable domestic role provided to them . Krafft-Ebing’s research of “Sapphic Love” struck at the heart of the female community . Krafft-Ebing singled out hyper-sexuality and prostitution as the primary sources of mental disorders such as homosexuality in women. These acts were typified by an increased sexual drive or licentious behavior that was considered inappropriate for women at the time . He also attacked institutions of female learning and prestige, such as schools, claiming they were hotbeds of homosexual activity. These he compared to female-only prisons, asylums, harems and brothels . Krafft-Ebing viewed these institutions with suspicion. Labeling woman-only institutions “homosexual” invaded and invalidated the female community. No doubt, Krafft-Ebing’s critiques and exposes into the “hidden realm” of female educational centers discouraged many families from subjecting their young girls to the madness, debauchery and insanity housed beneath the veneer of higher learning.
In his seminal work, the Psychopathia Sexualis, Krafft-Ebing attempted to correlate female participation in traditionally male realms of society with psychosis, degenerative sexuality and mental disorder . His research was predominately taxonomic: observing his patients (whom he refers to consistently as “creatures”) and making records of their various symptoms for further analysis. His work was largely centered on discovery and thus little focus was placed on remedy . His subjects suffered from various grades of “congenital sexual inversion,” a mental disorder he claimed whereby young women developed an interest in the male cultural role . In his description of gynandry, an extreme mental disorder and progressed state of degenerative homosexuality. Krafft-Ebing described his patients in the following manner:
The female urging may chiefly be found in the haunts of boys. She is their rival in their play, preferring the rocking horse, playing soldiers, etc., to dolls and other girlish occupations. The toilet is neglected and rough boyish manners are affected. Love for art finds a substitute in the pursuit of the sciences. At times smoking and drinking are cultivated even with passion?. The masculine soul, heaving in the female bosom, finds pleasure in the pursuit of manly sports and in manifestations of courage and bravado [emphasis added] .
In the Psychopatia Sexualis Krafft-Ebing succeeded in upholding traditional notions of male and female with an introduction of the new science of psychology. Women who trespassed or transcended the cultural norms fit into one of his many category of sexual inversion from frigidity to psychological hermaphratism. In light of Krafft-Ebing’s research, women who insisted on education, artistic expression and social outlet were viewed as being disposed to mental illness and sexual inversion. By classifying female independence as equivalent to homosexuality, Krafft-Ebing and his contemporaries were belittling the benefits of female society and debunking the growing focus on female suffrage, artistic contributions and the possibility of female independence.
Krafft-Ebing’s influence over psychology and the study of sexuality in young women would be short-lived. Published only a few years after Psychopatia Sexualis, Sigmund Freud’s The Psychology of Love presented modern theories of homosexuality, outside the arena of psychosis and disorder and was widely accepted by the scientific world and the general public . However, even as Freud’s theories of sexuality, liberated women from the constraints Krafft-Ebing had attempted to set, Freud’s study of hysteria and other nervous disorders would once again place gender at the center of the study of the human mind while reinforcing the traditional notions of the sexes.
During his lifetime, Sigmund Freud produced hundreds of articles, case studies and a number of important texts, which would forever alter the way in which western society approached humanity. His work influenced, and continues to influence, not only psychology but also the literature of the last hundred years.
Under his teacher and mentor, the physician Jean-Martin Charcot, much of Freud’s work centered on the investigation and cure of hysteria. Hysteria referred to a conglomeration of mysterious and inexplicable symptoms present predominantly in women . Modern psychologist have attributed the hysteria of the late nineteenth and early twentieth to a combination of insufficient information about the functions of the human mind and the negative effects of sexual and cultural repression. In addition, critics such as Elaine Showalter suggest growing urbanization and modernization contributed greatly to the general dissolve of women’s mental health in the late 1800’s . Freud defined hysteria as the physical manifestation of inward desires, fears and anxieties.
The mind of the hysterical patient is full of active yet unconscious ideas; her symptoms proceed from such ideas. It is in fact the most striking character of the hysterical mind to be ruled by them. If a hysterical woman vomits, she may do so from the idea of being pregnant. She has, however, no knowledge of this idea, although it can be detected in her mind and made conscious to her?. [A]nalysis will show that she was acting her part in the dramatic reproduction of some incident in her life, the memory of which was unconsciously active during her attack[emphasis added] .
In the text Studies on Hysteria, Freud worked closely with his contemporary Josef Breuer. Together, Freud and Breuer cataloged several patients in this comprehensive study of hysteria. The problem with Freud’s work at the time is mainly one of perspective. As psychologist and author Thomas S. Szasz noted in The Myth of Mental Illness both men pursued the study of psychosis as primarily analogous to physical disorders of the body . Specifically, hysteria was thought to be chemical in origin similar to diseases, which plagued the physical body. The sole difference between disorders of the mind and those of the body where that the in the latter cases, the science of the time was crude and exact sources could not be readily discovered . In addition, Szasz criticizes Freud’s insistence that each individual he observed was in fact, ill. “They mystified and prejudged the problem before them?by accepting all such persons as ‘patients’, by regarding their complaints as ’symptoms’ and by viewing these symptoms as the manifestations of some obscure disorder of the phsychio-chemical machinery of the complainant’s body. ”
While Studies on Hysteria aided in the creation and acceptance of a new, psycho-chemical disorder it was, however, Freud’s famous case study on a young woman named Dora that set the stage a vast association between hysteria and women . Dora was an eighteen year old girl from a well-to-do Austrian family who suffered a series of unfortunate and painful symptoms ranging from stomach aches and digestive disorders to insomnia and headaches. Freud spent only a few sessions with her and admittedly was unable to write down any of the details of their meetings until after each had ended. Dora symptoms had occurred infrequently since childhood but had grown particularly troublesome sometime in the previous two years. While hysteria was the result of latent desires breaking through the wall of the consciousness and manifesting themselves in physical symptoms, it was caused primarily from some obtrusive “psychic trauma,” something of sufficient power and turmoil to send these unconscious desires bubbling to the surface . In the case of Dora, her hysteria was the result of tumultuous sexual desires for a family friend. Long hidden, her symptoms first began to demonstrate their presence after this gentleman’s thwarted attempt at a sexual advance . Finally, Freud explains, her conscious mind could no longer tame her rapturous desires, which flooded her physical body in the form of aches and pains .
Author Claire Kahane has a different take on Freud’s relationship with his patient Dora. In her book, Passions of the Voice, Kahane relates Dora’s sessions with a form of sexual intercourse, in which Freud persuades a young teenage girl, verging on womanhood, to describe her most vulnerable and erotic thoughts . “What is particularly noticeable in this narrative structure is the emphasis on orality?.” Kahane continues in this train of thought to equate Freud’s psychoanalytic approach to the verbal version of oral sex likening it in many instances to “fellatio. ” Kahane insists that Freud’s own sexual mores came into play in this case study as well as in the discussion of hysteria as a whole. As a result, Freud’s conclusions about hysteria are based in part on his perception of sex at the turn of the century and his own sexuality .
Freud’s research into the psyche of women would lead to a renewed effort to enforce the traditional subversion of women throughout the western world. Women, practically barred from the medical profession, would need to find another way to combat the effects of gender-based pseudo-psychology. These female advocates of medical and mental equality (an often times, patients as well) would publish some of the most descriptive and profound accounts of madness and alter our understanding of mental illnesses among women. Over the next century, many authors would take their pens up to further our understanding of the harsh, and often unreproachable, institution of psychology, which had been responsible for the systematic creation, and subsequent justification of unequal treatment among men and women in regards to mental illness.
Literature and Madness: Gilman, Woolf and Chopin
One champion would leave a vivid and remarkable account of the role of gender in early psychology before Freud’s Studies in Hysteria would focus popular attention on the subject. Charlotte Perkins Gilman would publish her chronicle of a woman’s digression into madness in the New England Journal in 1892 .
Inspired by her own suffering from the ambiguous malady of melancholia, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a dark and dismal tale of one woman?s struggle to fortify herself against a supposed psychological illness. Gilman?s brief text became a rallying point for the feminist movement of the time. 11 years later, in 1903, Gilman published a response to her story saying, ?It was not meant to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked. ?
After several years of nervous breakdowns, in 1887, Charlotte Perkins Gilman visited the noted physician and mental health specialist, Silas Wier Mitchell. Mitchell, an expert in nerve disorders popularized the ?rest cure.” Among his patients were numerous promident and intellectual women of the nineteenth century including Jane Addams, Winifred Howells (daughter of William Dean Howells), and Edith Wharton . After several weeks of continuous investigation and research, Mitchell proposed that Gilman return home and ?live as domestic a life as possible.? He warned her to ?have but two hours of intellectual life a day [and] never to touch a pen, brush or pencil as long as I lived. ? Mitchell was well aware that boredom and sensory perception were common side effects for his notorious cure. “When they are bidden to stay in bed a month,” Mitchell was quoted as saying, “and neither read, write, nor sew, and have one nurse?who is not a relative?then rest becomes for some women rather bitter medicine?. ” After three months of ardently following her physician’s instructions, Gilman tried another method. Despite the reproach of family and friends, most notably her husband Charles Stetson, Gilman made an explicit point to freely participate in activities outside the home. She wrote, engaged in discussion, and lived a full and healthy life. Her cure worked.
Gilman?s ordeal prompted her to write ?The Yellow Wallpaper? with the hope of preventing countless other women from suffering the same calamity. The story is the tale of a nameless narrator living in the country as part of her prescription for health. She spends her time in a yellow wallpapered bedroom, keeping a meager diary of her experiences. With time the burden of healing begins to weigh hard on her mind. Guilt and doubt replace resignation. The protagonist somehow feels guilty for her own disorder and unsure if her insistence on writing and recording a few modest thoughts might indeed be thwarting her recovery. All of these pressures lead her to seek solace and occupation in the contemplation of the gaudy, flamboyant, yellow wallpaper. Throughout the course of the narrative, the young woman discovers an unseen world of trapped women fighting for escape, hidden just behind the brazen print. Her visions embody her own frustrations, pains, as well as her hopes for freedom from the oppressive nature of her condition. By the climax of the story the ailing women locks herself in her room and, in a fit of hysteria and lucidity, tears the wallpaper to shreds, thus freeing the souls of the sick and possessed women imprisoned within.
Unlike Gilman, Kate Chopin was not a victim of the male medicine or psychology of the late nineteenth century. She was, however, no stranger to the social and cultural mores of her time. The daughter of an Irish immigrant, Chopin was much impressed in her youth by authors such as Flaubert, Zola and Maupassant . At the age of nineteen she married Oscar Chopin and moved to New Orleans. Although she moved back to her native St. Louis in 1884, the cultural of the Cajun and Creole south would influenced much of her writing for the rest of her life .
Published in 1899, The Awakening is partly a story of a young society woman’s path to sexual liberation and partly a terrible, tragic, journey of a woman in search for freedom and deliverance. The story follows the life of Edna Pontellier on a voyage of self-discovery that begins with a few mournful notes of Chopin and a midnight swim off Louisiana’s Grand Isle and ends with an act of self-destruction. Along the way, Edna breaks free of the traditional gender molds and the sexual repression that had constrained her. Neglecting her domestic duties and abandoning her social routine, her husband seeks the help of a renowned physician, Doctor Mandelet.
“[S]he doesn’t act well. She’s odd, she’s not herself. I can’t make her out. ” Leonce Pontellier tells Mandelet. He further complains that the housework has been left undone and Edna has ignored her “Tuesday night home,” preferring to visit friends or wander the streets of New Orleans instead of greet guests, as was the custom of the day. In addition, Edna has expressed displeasure at the thought of attending a friend’s upcoming wedding. “She won’t go to the marriage. She says a wedding is one of the most lamentable spectacles on earth. Nice thing for a woman to say to her husband! ”
Mandelet poses one question: “Has she been associating of late with a circle of pseudo-intellectual women??” At Pontellier’s negative reply the doctor advises he let her be:
“Woman, my dear friend, is a very peculiar animal and delicate organism ? a sensitive and highly organized woman as I know Mrs. Pontellier to be, is especially peculiar. It would require an inspired psychologist to deal successfully with them. And when ordinary fellows like you and me attempt to cope with their idiosyncrasies the results can be bungling. Most women are moody and whimsical. This is some passing whim of your wife, due to some cause or causes which you and I needn’t try to fathom. But will pass happily, over, especially if you let her alone. ”
Unlike the physician in Gilman’s short story or in her life, Chopin’s doctor
does not advocate the popular rest cure of the time. Instead, he assures Edna’s husband that if he ignores his wife’s sudden change in behavior it will simply pass. In this brief interchange, Chopin touches on one of the major forces in the social constraint of women. Dr. Mandelet does not suggest that nothing is wrong with Edna nor that her change in attitude might reflect some valid self-discovery or epiphany but merely that whatever it is its cause and its remedy are beyond his expertise and that in all circumstances it could hardly be more than a “passing whim.” Some years later, Sigmund Freud would mirror this sentiment in a letter to Marie Bonaparte, saying: “The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘what does a woman want? ‘”
Like Kate Chopin, Virginia Woolf was a prolific literary figure; like Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Woolf was plagued by male medicine. Born Adeline Virginia Stephens in 1882 just five years before Gilman’s diagnosis of melancholia by Dr. Mitchell, Woolf first attempted suicide thirteen years later after the death of her mother, Julia Duckworth Stephens in 1895 . Woolf’s life would never be cleared from suspicion of madness. She was examined by numerous doctors beginning in her early teens and warned of the dangers of pursuing her habit of writing and her passion for literature. In 1912 she married critic and essayist Leonard Woolf . In 1913, Woolf suffered a substantial breakdown and again attempted to take her own life . The shadow of insanity lay across her life. At the insistence of her husband and her physicians (all of them male, of course) Woolf was urged at every available instance to seek rest and avoid physical and intellectual labor. Her physicians included a number of the most prominent psychologists in England. They often touted her moral responsibility to her husband and her friends to prevent her mental illness from encroaching on their lives . She was forbidden to have children, asked to curve her writing and relocated outside her beloved London . In 1941, she committed suicide by drowning, “resulting from her dread of the coming World War and her fear that she was about to lose her mind and become a burden to her husband [emphasis added], ” ending one of the most influential and tortured literary lives of the twentieth century.
Woolf immortalized her struggle with the male medicine of her time in many of her novels, letters and her personal journals. In her own words, Woolf desired to “study?insanity and suicide, the world seen by the sane and insane side by side. ” She accomplished this in her fourth novel, Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, which is perhaps her most profound and daunting study of madness. Mrs. Dalloway is the study of the lives of two strangers on an unusually hot day in London in the summer of 1923: Clarrisa Dalloway, the middle-ages wife of an English politician and Septimus Warren Smith a returning solider obsessed with death. The novel follows the lives of these two characters, radically different on the surface but both suffering from subtle neurosis within. Clarrisa and Smith frequently think of death; both have suffered the tragic loss of close friends in the previous years: Clarissa lost her sister in an accident and Smith; his best friend in the war. Woolf only unites these two at the climax of the novel, when, at Dalloway’s dinner party, Smith’s physician brings the news of his patient’s suicide. It is for Mrs. Dalloway the most powerful event of the day and abruptly, despite the physical gulf that separated her from Smith she feels “suddenly very like him. ”
Smith and Clarissa represent doubles, sharing remarkable similarities while on opposite sides of the spectrum of sanity. Throughout the text their love for Shakespeare, their preoccupation with death and a certain ambivalence toward sex binds them together forming the horizontal union of individuals , a theme that would dominate much of Woolf’s future work. At the same instance, Woolf distinguishes Mrs. Dalloway and Smith in regards to their respective psychosis. “Clarissa senses in the world a chaos and ugliness that she tries to combat,” remarks author Susan Rubinow Gorsky in her study of Woolf’s work simply titled Virginia Woolf. Meanwhile, Smith “sees an ever-changing world?now beautiful, now disgusting. ” “In essentials,” continues Gorsky, “the world that created Clarissa and [Smith] is the same; in their reactions and actions Woolf had indeed displayed the ‘world’ as seen by the sane and the insane. ”
Biographer and literary critic, Stephen Trombley, contends that the fictions physicians attending to Smith during the course of this novel are composite of Woolf’s own doctors during the years immediately preceding the text’s publication. In his work, All That Summer She was Mad, Trombley investigates Woolf’s tragic life and the impact of her diagnosis on her novels. “In Mrs. Dalloway Virginia presents a sustained attack on psychiatry as she experienced it. ” Trombley examines the significance of Woolf’s physicians’ use of morality to guilt her into compliance with their various recommendations and rest cures. In these cases, Trombley argues, guilt served as an additional hardship on the patient who “feels he is a burden on his family, that he causes unnecessary expense and that if the doctor can find nothing physically wrong?he must be either mad or bad. ” Similarly, when Smith’s physician Holmes can find nothing outwardly wrong with his patient, Smith is left feeling corrupt and diseased.
[T]here was no excuse, nothing whatever the matter, except the sin for which human nature had condemned him to death; that he did not feel. He had not cared when Evans was killed?he had married his wife without loving her; had seduced her?. The verdict of human nature upon such a wretch was death .
Again, Trombley notes similarities in Smith’s doctor, Sir William, and one of Woolf’s own physicians, the eminent Sir George Henry Savage. Savages was reputed to have described the typical sufferer of Neurasthenia, a popular feminine nervous disorder of the late nineteenth century, as: “A woman, generally single, or in some way not in a condition for performing her reproductive function, having suffered from some real or imagined trouble, or having passed through a phase of hypochondriasis of sexual character, and often being a high nervous stock?. ” Savage sent Woolf to a nursing home in Twickenham during the summer of 1913 after Woolf fell ill during a conference in Keswick . Smith’s physician also recommends rest at a home specially designed for the insane: “It was merely a question of rest, said Sir William; of rest, rest, rest; a long rest in bed?. There would be no alternative. It was a question of law. He would lie in bed in a beautiful house in the country. ” In light of Woolf’s tragic death, one can only contemplate to what extent the author related with her protagonist, Septimus Warren Smith.
Putting the Pieces Together
These authors were not the first to discuss the unequal treatment of women within the sciences of their time. Critics as far back as the late eighteenth century also believed the young and burgeoning sciences of psychology and sociology were responsible for a renewed effort to enforce the subversion of women. Ailments like hysteria, melancholia, even wandering womb were common diagnoses of women throughout the western world up until even the middle of the last century. Critic and philosopher, Michel Foucault first focused on mental illnesses such as these in 1954 with the publication of Mental Illness and Psychology. Originally this text was a support of such theorists as Freud who had, in his own time, made some of the first significant steps away from the archaic mental health sciences of the 1800’s. However, after its revision in 1962, readers of Foucault noted the dramatic shift in his attitudes toward psychology?s checkered past. In this later addition, Foucault focused more specifically on the constructs of mental illness and its role in the sociology of early America. Like Gilman, Woolf, Chopin and other prominent female authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Foucault understood the relation between science and culture particularly in the medical world?s interpretation of the female psyche and the role of women in the society.
In his text, Mental Illness and Psychology, Michel Foucault attempts to follow the progression of psychology and mental health as oppressive tools. The first portion of the text focuses on an elaborated history of the clinical mind punctuated with discussion on the dichotomy between organic and inorganic psychology and a working, evolving glossary of pseudo-psychological terms and illnesses. The second portion, added after the text?s revision, is concerned with the progressive relationship between psychology, its history and mental illness. Foucault is not interested in solely this interpretation but does spend significant time underscoring psychology?s historical growth and expansion with its use as a political methodology designed to force women–among other ethnic and minority groups–into positions of definite submission. Foucault argues that mental illness has always been attributed to and interrelated with a terminology of possession . Ancient texts as early as the Egyptians make abundantly clear the relation of insanity with possession. In this manner, Foucault argues, the victim of many psychological disorders becomes displaced and eventually becomes the perpetrator instead. This discrepancy in central to Foucault?s argument. ?The doctor is not on the side of health,? he remarks, ?possessing all the knowledge about illness; and the patient is not on the side of the illness, ignorant of everything about it. ?
In addition, science and social consciousness have, throughout history, have had difficulty in differentiating sickness of the body with sickness of the mind. ?Neither Arabic, medieval, nor even post-Cartesian medicine accepted the distinction between illness of the body and illness of the mind; each pathological form involved man in his totality [emphasis added]. ? It is these factors–sentiments about the inter-relation of illness to overall psychology and the belief that the patient is not to be trusted or relied on–that led more over to the perceptions of illness among nineteenth century medicine and early psychology.
Gilman?s protagonist suffers from this misunderstanding of illness and its role within as well as without the patient. Woolf’s protagonist, Smith, deals with the external factors and affects pushing or pulling him toward a diagnosis of mental illness. Even Edna Pontellier is defined by a definite set of characteristics and aberration of which marks her as significantly sick or ill. All of these characters suffer from a total and complete lack of control. They are not allowed to hold any belief or faith in their own health and what sentiments they might possess are quickly brushed aside by the brash and controlling decisions of the physicians around them. In addition, the realities of these characters are constantly being conformed to fit the authoritative nature of their physician or husband. They cannot, even for one moment, hold firm to their own beliefs about their health without succumbing to the diagnosis of others. ?I did write for a while, despite them,? Gilman’s protagonist writes, “but it does exhaust me a great deal–having to be sly about it or else meet with heavy opposition. ? Foucault would note that Gilman?s protagonist is subtly incorporated with her ?sickness,” that she has become one in the same with that obscure set of symptoms that forced her into this position to begin with. She has become brainwashed to the extent in which her every objection wears the facade of insanity or hysteria.
For Foucault, the constructs of psychology revolve around perceptions of madness and insanity. In other words, the very existence of nervous disorders and aberrant behaviors stemming from physiological sources enables the science of psychology to grow and develop . It is for that reason that madness, over the course of several centuries, has continually been the source of great disruption. Psychology is least likely, as a science, to be concerned with the ?healing? of the mentally infirm or the irradiation of social ideas of madness for it (psychology) receives its most important validation from this form of sickness. Foucault reasons that it was only after cultural fears of possession could be relegated to physical, chemical reactions within the psyche did man become a ?psychologized? species, thus validating the sciences that would follow . It is this complex inter-relationship that is responsible for the growth and maturation of psychology and the ever-changing role of the mental ill.
Foucault recognizes the immediate social unit or family of the ?madman? and their relationship toward perceptions of madness. The family is most likely to take issue with the deviate behavior of any of its members for the family, it is supposed, should work as a microcosm of the society at large . Again, this is particularly true in Gilman?s scenario as with the real life of Virginia Woolf. John, the young woman?s husband, is her primary physician. However, her brother is also a doctor and her sister is her caretaker through much of the story. If anything, the intimacy between patient and doctor(s) helps to further the woman?s struggles as well as her intense internal dilemma. ?It is so hard to talk to John about my case, because her is so wise and he loves me so, ? the narrator continues. Attacks against her treatment become indistinguishable from personal attacks against her family. For Woolf, the pressure to do right by her family and accept her “condition” was one of the predominate tools used by her physicians to enact her compliance.
Foucault acknowledges the role of interment within the effort of psychology to heal the sick in addition to preventing the spread of ?illness? or even the appearance of ?Unreason. ” Such separation occurs in every culture in some form or another. He breaks down such devices into three large categories. Geographical separation is the removal of infected people from villages and towns, often without their consent. The geographically separated have, in all ages, been victims of institutionalized hospitals where they would most likely live out the remainder of their lives. Material separation and potential separation refer to the removal of persons from open society to the back bedrooms and ?ancestral halls for the summer. ?
The narrator of Gilman?s story is removed from the mainstream society not only to facilitate some muted form of nineteenth century healing but also to remove her hurtful and different element from possibly affectable people. Both Woolf and her fictional character, Smith are treated with the threat of removal and containment. These characters are separated from a society that does not wish to acknowledge their difference or their insistence for personal, intellectual fulfillment. These elements are deadly to the view of white, male selfhood that has underscored this trauma since the beginning. Their diagnosis is one of containment. Husband, family, mainstream science and psychology, all of these factors urge a form of social containment not to protect these women from the ravishes of the world but to protect society from the potentially dangerous interactions with ?madness? and independence.
These works, whether propagated in the form of short stories, dramas, or novels, are of intense meaning, metaphor and are political outcries against the totalitarian efforts of psychology and medicine at the time. Foucault?s analysis of madness and its unique role in defining psychology as well as providing the only substantial threat against it underscored the themes presented in these texts. Together they paint a terribly accurate picture of the use of medicine as a political tool throughout the nineteenth century in this country. However it is important not to forget the plight of millions of men and women who have struggled against the oppression of psychological investigation and treatment. It is not; of course, the fault of science but it uses as a political method for disguising unpopular or radical sentiment under the guise of illness. With careful understanding and reason, we can learn to pass this frightening moment in our history. We can use psychology and medicine not to distribute power or disenfranchise the weak but to heal the sick and help give to them the same freedom we all hold dear.
1. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women; With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects 171 (J. Johnson, 1988) (1792).
2. Dr. R. Krafft-Ebing, Psychopatihia Sexualis 399 (Physicians and Surgeons Book Company, 1922).
3. Sigmund Freud, Psychology of Love (Macmillan Publishing, 1963).
4. Sigmund Freud & Josef Breuer, Studies on Hysteria, (Avon Books, 1966).
5. Sigmund Freud, A General Selection from the Work of Sigmund Freud 243 (John Rickman ed., Doubleday 1957).
6. Sigmund Freud, Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, (Collier Books, 1974).
7. Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture, 1830-1980 (Pantheon, 1985).
8. Thomas S. Szasz, The Myth of Mental Illness 72 (Anchor, 1983).
9. Claire Kahane, Passion of the Voice: Hysteria, Narrative and the Figure of the Speaking Woman 23 (John Hopkins University Press, 1995).
10. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” in The Norton Anthology of American Literature 670, 656-670 (Nina Baym et al. Eds., W.W.Norton & Company 1979).
11. Kate Chopin, The Awakening in The Norton Anthology of American Literature 519, 455-558 (Nina Baym et al. Eds., W.W.Norton & Company 1979).
12. Sigmund Freud, Sigmund Freud Life and Work (Ernest Jones, ed., Doubleday, 1955).
13. M.H. Abrams, et al. eds., The Norton Anthology of English Literature (W.W.Norton & Company 1993).
14. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway 280 (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1950).
15. Susan Rubinow Gorsky, Virginia Woolf, Revised Edition 58 (Twayne 1989).
16. Stephen Trombley, All That Summer She Was Mad 95 (Continuum 1982).
17. Michel Foucault, Mental Illness and Psychology 65 (University of California Press 1987).