Representations of "madness" in literature written by women have been the focus of feminist studies in the western world since the Victorian Era. When Charlotte Gilman Perkins wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper" in 1892, she "met with consternation of disapproving males ...[and] it was virtually ignored for thirty
years" (Kasmer 1). Glman herself had gone through a "rest cure" which had brought her "perilously close to having a nervous breakdown" (Kasmer 1). Kasmer holds that the treatment of "rest cure" was commonly prescribed to women diagnosed with hysteria, to help them through "reintegration [into her proper] position as wife by forcing her to focus only on her home and children"
Adrienne Rich calls for re-visionary readings of all feminist texts. "Revision--the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction" (483) is, for women, an act of survival. When we re-read female texts and re-write ourselves, we see "how our language has trapped as well as liberated us, how the very act of naming has been until now a male prerogative, and how we can begin to see and name--and therefore live--afresh" (Rich 483). Gilbert and Gubar, in their revision of Gilman's text, hold that the
narrator "effects" her own liberation from the "textual/architectural confinement"
of patriarchal constructs by tearing down the wallpaper when she discovers her double behind it, enabling the double to escape to freedom" (91).
Thus, when female authors write about madness, they are "naming" themselves in their own language--the language of the body, which leads to freedom from the patriarchal construct and discourse. When women enter into this medium, they break free from the symbolic order, and only women who speak the same language, and listen with "another ear," (Irigaray) can interpret them. Interpreting this language through our bodies "involves a recognition of difference, a force different from the patriarch. This force points towards liberation" (Kasmer 13).
My discussion of the representation of madness in Anita Desai's Cry. The Peacock and Bharati Mukherjee's Wife supports feminists' reading of madness. In both the books, the heroines break free from the patriarchal construct into another world where they can choose to name themselves. They rewrite and rename their experiences which leads them to liberation. This escape from the patriarchal construct and discourse is named "madness," but feminists claim this experience as empowering by questioning the very construct of madness. They claim that madness is actually a liberation from the patriarchal construct that keeps us in a subordinated and oppressed position in society.
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