Literary criticism mainly involves evaluating or assessing the main issues and themes in literary articles such as books and novels, and creating a basis for critique. Therefore, this essay will examine two literary books, namely; Oedipus Rex authored by Sophocles and Charlotte Gilman’s Yellow Wallpaper. The main reason for the selection is in the similarities found, in terms of themes and certain literary aspects.
The play concerning Oedipus Rex is a description of a Greek myth, about a prophecy that was foretold and was indeed fulfilled. Oedipus was the son of a King, Laius, who was punished by the gods for abducting and defiling an innocent child belonging to a kind ruler (Dawe, Roger D., ed, 1982). According to the plot of the narration, Laius was tasked with the responsibility of being a tutor to the child, but instead acted inhumanly and chose to repay kindness and hospitality with evil. The gods were displeased and in return, placed a curse on him.
The curse stated that he would perish and die by the hand of his birth son, who would then commit the hideous act of betrothing his wife, and the son’s mother, Jocasta. True to the imprecation, the unfolding events happened in the same way. Laius, afraid of his son, ordered the queen to end his life but instead, she gave the little boy away to a servant, who in turn left him in the hands of a shepherd. As the story explains, the little Oedipus would end up being raised by a childless ruler. Years later, on a fateful day, Oedipus unknowingly killed his father during a quarrel, after that solved a riddle from a sphinx and as a reward; he became the new tyrant of Thebes by marrying the queen, who was his birth mother (Dawe, Roger D., ed, 1982).
On the other hand, the Yellow wallpaper, though not as detailed as the first book in discussion, is about the firsthand account of a woman (Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, 1991). The female in the book narrates her critical and gradual path to mental insanity in the hands of her husband. As the narration goes, a couple moves to an old abandoned dwelling during the summer season, and the husband, who was as well a doctor, secludes his spouse in the aim of specialized medical attention. The male character thinks his motives are well intended but unknown to him; his actions are working against the female counterpart. The overall theme of this book tends to buy a feminist view. The woman, after a reasonable period of time locked up in a single room, starts to realize changes on the walls in terms of color. This illustrates her mental deterioration.
As stated in the introductory part of this document, the selected articles have familiar concepts and among them are feminism and historicism. Feminism or a feministic approach refers to the open championship for equality between both genders, male and female. The issue cannot exist without a lack of fairness or some kind of oppression. In the yellow wallpaper, it is evident that the male gender is more superior compared to the female gender.
This is mainly because the author in first person narration has no say or power in determining her condition and what is best for her health. Her husband is portrayed as an all-knowing, and indeed, he was an expert physician (Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, 1991). The woman was the patient in need of medical attention, and it is no surprise that the setting of the story had to be in such a manner. In personal opinion, and in the representation of many others, it is a mystery why the author could not have been placed as the physician and vice versa. The book tends to champion the rights of women in an attempt to demonize the male species. This is in contrast to the sentiments of Todd Lowery, who critically states that feminism is not a theme in the book at all.
The issue of feminism is also portrayed in Oedipus Rex, where the queen and female servant has no power of opinion and personal decision-making capabilities. In the play, the king, in reaction to fear of the boy, expects Jocasta to willingly follow his orders and execute their recently born child (Dodds, Erec Robertson, 1966). In doing so, he has no consideration of the fact that it is almost impossible for a mother even to harm her own offspring. Regardless, he subjects her to the order of eliminating the innocent child. Jocasta, despite being in a position of power and influence as the queen of Thebes, is not seen to oppose the decision of the king. Instead, having no option delegates the duty to her servant, who again, has no free will to choose whether to carry out the queen’s orders. After all, she is just a servant and a female one for that matter.
Another dominant theme is historicism, which tends to base social practices and culture on historical proceedings/history. Charlotte Gilman, the author of Yellow wallpaper, was raised in a historical background of oppression against women (Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, 2015). Growing up, the society she lived in believed that female had a frequent tendency to suffer from specific illnesses, and the nature of treatment that followed was unique to them only. This means that her historical background served as a great inspiration to the writing of the book, which was intended for her rest care physician, commonly referred to as John. In the Oedipus Rex, the history of the Greek inhabitants is brought out in the play. They are accustomed to the will of the gods, as all the vibration is as a result of a perceived prophecy from the gods.
Todd Lowery has poured out his sentiments, as briefly mentioned earlier, concerning the Yellow wallpaper and the issue of feminism. He argues that the book never intended to bring out a theme of related nature and instead, it merely served as a warning to women in regards to mental well being. According to Sarah Wyman, there is a possibility that the outward description of the environment did not exist, but instead, was an illusion in her head and a reflection of her mental state.
She then goes further to criticize her inconsistency. The author explains that despite the solitude and mental deterioration, she ends up regaining normalcy; but in another part of the book, her description of crawling like a toddler (Press, 1Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, 2011) purely contradicts the first statement. Sarah wonders how the author can claim to have healed in one aspect of the book and then provide another version of the same story in another element. Chris Oven, however, tends to analyze the text as a reflection of a society in which men are patriarchal.
In reference to Oedipus Rex, several critics have come out to give personal perspectives of the play. According to a famous American lecturer, Fergusson Francis, the events that occurred in the play were part of a ritual. This is due to the increased number of human deaths at specific points and seasons, for example, the plague at the commencement of the play, the death of the innocent child and the sudden death of King Laius (Rudnytsky, Peter L., and Ellen Handler Spitz, eds). Other researchers such as Freud Sigmund had different exciting opinions regarding the play. He dedicated most of his life to the study of how the human mind functions.
Therefore, he concluded that the play portrayed the inbuilt desires of human beings. He categorically states that in a particular stage of human development, people have unusual wishes as described in the Oedipus, such as children wanting to take their mothers as spouses and the longing to exterminate their fathers. This view is however opposed by many as it has no moral basis. Lastly, Aristotle talks about how different events occur at once in a phenomenon known as peripeteia. To be specific, he explains how a message deliverer informs Oedipus about his birth with the expectation that he will be excited, but in contrast, he displays an entirely opposite reaction. Aristotle also tries to bring out an innocent man, whose awful fate had nothing to do with his sins. The character in the discussion is partly described as a hero, a prosperous being and a villain in another aspect. The scholar seems to arouse the emotions of the reader.
In summary, both of the literary articles tend to depict specific themes, which may or may not be well appreciated by other scholars. However, it is important to note that the concepts apply in real life situations, as in the example of feminism. It is an issue that is present in contemporary society as it was at the time of authoring. History has an impact on our cultures and norms. Oedipus Rex, according to Aristotle, paints the picture of an individual who suffers from the mistakes of another person, who, in this case, is his father. However, it is in question why the gods chose to involve him and not punish King Laius Dodds, (Erec Robertson, 1966) alone for his evil actions. In regards to the Yellow wallpaper, the central theme evident is female suffering and the issue of feminism. As mentioned in the discussion, the author writes the book in reaction to wrongful treatment by a male caregiver/doctor. She resents that men assume to have power over women and hence can dare to make decisions about them, without their consent. She has clearly epitomized the society on paper. This document has therefore done a comparison and literary appreciation of two articles, a play and a book, and how different researchers and scholars have viewed specific topics about them.
Dawe, Roger D., ed. Sophocles: Oedipus Rex. Cambridge University Press, 1982.
Dodds, Erec Robertson. “On misunderstanding the Oedipus rex.” Greece & Rome 13.1 (1966): 37-49.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: an autobiography. Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1991.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The yellow wall-paper. Penguin UK, 2015.
Press, 1Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “Why I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper?.” Advances in psychiatric treatment 17.4 (2011): 265-265.994.
Rudnytsky, Peter L., and Ellen Handler Spitz, eds. Freud and Forbidden Knowledge. NYU
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