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Individuals’ attitudes toward illnesses are often influenced culturally and socially. With different perspectives, the idea of illnesses has been systematically stigmatized for many decades. However, most stigmas are directed towards the category of mental disorders. Society often associates individuals with mental disorders as psycho or crazy leading to prejudice. While most stigmas of illnesses have been associated specifically with mental illnesses, one prevalent physical illness that often has negative attitudes is AIDS. In Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the narrator uses first-person POV to describe her deterioration of a mental illness while in Sontag’s “The Way We Live Now”, uses a personal account of a group of friends through 3rd personal narration dealing with their friend’s diagnosis of AIDS. While both stories focus on completely different aspects of illnesses, both protagonists experience states of denial and the need for cognitive escapism. Additionally, both shared similar themes of sexuality and gender roles as they also acknowledged past approaches to treating illnesses. Through the attribution of formal elements in both works of fiction, it creates a sense of fear in readers.

When in fear people often use denial as their defense mechanism considering it is easier to deny the truth. Both texts use imagery with different writing styles to show the protagonists in their state of denial. In Gilman’s works, this can be seen when she states, “It was nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium, I should judge; for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls” (133). The narrator’s conscious description of her environment with the “barred window” shows that she notices these prison-like environments yet she chooses to deny it by describing it as a fun place for children. Comparing to Sontag’s work, she states, “At first, he was just losing weight, he felt only a little ill, Max said to Ellen, and he didn’t call for an appointment with his doctor, according to Greg, because he was managing to keep on working at more or less the same rhythm, but he did stop smoking which suggests he was frightened” (1). The protagonist’s delaying an appointment with the doctor shows his denial as he does not want to find out the truth. The overlapping conversations between his friends can be seen through the never-ending sentences lacking punctuation which suggest the amount of urgency and fear as the friends first react to his symptoms. Another instance can be shown when Sontag states, “But you see how he is, Lewis said tartly, he’s fine, he’s perfectly healthy but he wasn’t worse, and that was true, but wasn’t it, well, almost heartless to talk like that” ( ). The victim’s friends are being dishonest with themselves when obviously they know he is diagnosed with AIDS. The use of imagery in Gilman and the unique writing style of Sontag also create a sense of fear in readers.

Living with the conditions of illnesses creates mental stress for patients causing them to want to alternate their sense of reality. In both works of fiction, both victims’ approaches to coping with their conditions are clearly expressed in their behavioral patterns. In Gilman’s, the yellow wallpaper and the women she saw were the protagonist’s distraction from reality. Sontag mentioned, “The front patterns do move – and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it. Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over” (143). The protagonist sees the design on the wallpaper to be imprisoning the woman compared to the way she is confined behind those barred windows. “Shakes it all over” reflects the entrapment the protagonist feels and thus she may be literally shaking the bar window as she needs to escape. Similarly, with Sontag, the need to escape can also be seen through the motif of a diary when she mentions, “by the very keeping of the diary he was accumulating to reread one day, slyly staking out his claim to a future time” (4). The protagonist begins to record his mental reactions as he writes in his diary and wants to disengage from reality. Additionally, going back to Gilman, the protagonist writes her story secretly in her diary. While one chooses to write openly and the other writes in secret, in both cases, the motif of the diary serves as a form of escapism.

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As illnesses continue to prevail, many people are expecting effective treatment plans. However, in both texts, it is explicit that the past approaches to treating illnesses were ineffective. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, mental illnesses were undermined. Gilman states, “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency, – what is one to do?” (131). The protagonist’s passive attitude is influenced by her husband of higher authority. Although she does not agree with the treatment plan of being confined to a room and rest, she has no authority. In addition, her husband was unable to understand her psyche and women’s health. In “The Way We Live Now”, Sontag states “if chocolate made him feel better she saw no harm in it, which worried Stephen” (2) and following she states, “was that they didn’t, the doctors, really have any hope” (3). Just like Gilman’s quote, the doctors seem to be making unreliable protocols and not enforcing proper medical rules. Both of these texts illustrate ineffective treatment plans for the protagonists which create a sense of fear for readers as they question the approach of modern medicine today.

In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, it is apparent that the narrator is isolated due to her mental illness. However, Gilman’s message is informing readers about the patriarchal structure and fixed gender roles and how it creates a dilemma due to the entrapment in these specific roles. Gilman mentioned, “It is so hard to talk to John about my case because he is so wise, and because he loves me so” (139). It’s clear that the narrator believes that her husband is knowledgeable about her condition so her sanity begins to deteriorate as she begins to question herself instead. In comparison to “The Way We Live Now”, there is a similar dilemma but more toward sexuality. At this point during which the story was written, it is prominent that AIDS is transmitted sexually so people began to question their sexual behavior. Sontag states, “Everyone is at risk, everyone who has a sexual life, because sexuality is a chain that links each of us to many others, unknown others, and now the great chain of death as well” (5). The risk of being infected and the possibility of death intensify individuals’ fear and persuade them to be cautious. Consequently, while one text is more focused on the theme of gender roles while the other is more concentrated on the theme of sexuality, both correlate with similar stereotypes and beliefs.

Today, women who are diagnosed with mental illnesses still battle the negative connotations stemming from all the stigmas. In addition, the stigmas associated with AIDS are also a major stressor for victims. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the narrator believes that there is a woman confined behind the yellow wallpaper which unconsciously symbolizes her own physical, emotional, and psychological confinement. In “The Way We Live Now”, the news of a friend diagnosed with AIDS terrified many individuals knowing that anyone can contract it. Overall, in both cases, the use of imagery, narration style, and symbolism creates a connection between readers and the characters. The first-person narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, creates a personal and psychological connection with the narrator. Lastly, the accounts of friends conversing using 3rd personal Point of View in “The Way We Live Now”, allow readers to understand the feelings of anxiety and fear during the emergence of the AIDS crisis.

#heathcare #medical #medicalcare #pharmaceuticals #healthcareprofessional #nurses #healthprofessionals

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