Today we read the story that most students agreed was their favorite reading of last semester, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I was extremely surprised by how much students enjoyed this story last semester. I never read this story in high school, and when I read it for the first time in college I thought is was kind of silly and overblown, but amusing. But now that I’ve read it several times, I think Gilman is a genius and this story is a tremendously affecting work of art.
Anyway, a lot of kids seemed to connect with it.
I started out the day by reminding students that their next book report is due on April 13, and also that, for 10 of the 50 points available, they are required to actually procure and bring to class the book they are going to be reading this Friday. It looks like there will be two books due in April, and two books in May, and then we’re all done.
After that, we reviewed the terms we discussed yesterday, objective and subjective, and I added a couple of terms to those. Under subjective, I added the term “first-person,” which is pretty much a synonym for “subjective.” I also added the term unreliable narrator. This refers to the fact that subjective narrators, who are participants in the story they’re telling, suffer the same inadequacies that regular people do in trying to convey a message. Sometimes the truth is obscured by faulty memories, ignorance, lying to protect oneself, or even mental illness. Most subjective narrators have one or more of these “failings” and would be considered “unreliable.” Most of my favorite stories have unreliable narrators, which I enjoy because I like authors that play with these ideas about truth, and whether or not humans can ever know it.
Under objective, I added the term omniscient. This is a word made of the Greek roots omni, which means “all,” and scient, which means “knowing,” or maybe “aware.” An omniscient narrator is one that can see the truth of the story’s events, and can also see into the characters’ actual thoughts and feelings. As far as I know, all omniscient narrators are objective narrators, that is they have no part in the events in the story, but stand apart as sort of a disembodied mind, retelling what it saw. We should also keep in mind that some omniscient narrators actually can only see into the thoughts of some characters, but not others. If this is the case (such as in the story “The White Heron,” in which we knew only what the little girl was thinking), we say that the narrator has limited omniscience, which is kind of an oxymoron, but that’s a discussion for another day.
After all this, we finally got around to reading “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and discussing the author’s use of an unreliable narrator to tell the story. I think most of the classes enjoyed it, and I sent most people off with a copy and an admonition to anyone enrolled in the stop-motion animation class this semester to adapt the story as a stop-motion film. Imagine that you might animate the wallpaper using standard cell animation, and then the lady slowly taking on 3-dimensionality as she emerges from the graphic background. Someone’s got to do it. C’mon.
Anyway, I think that’s enough. If you weren’t here today, there’s a copy of the story available for download at the end of this post.