1994 D. C. Heath Student Essay Contest Winners
The editorial board of The Heath Anthology of American Literature and its panel of judges are pleased to announce the winners of the 1994 D. C. Heath Student Essay Contest. After broadening the contest guidelines to include essays written about individual writers or works that appears in The Heath Anthology, as well as essays that compare canonical and noncanonical works, we received an unprecedented number of entries. Because of the quantity and quality of all the entries, the judges have decided to recognize a third essay with an honorable mention.
The first place essay is by Margaret A. Stanton, a student at Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph, Missouri. The second place essay is by Andrew Doub, a student at Modesto Junior College in Modesto, California.
Receiving an honorable mention is an essay entitled, "Native Americans Are Hateful Savages: The Creation of Influential American Myths by Early Authors" by Valerie Bauman, a student of Professor Krista Walter's at Loyola University in Chicago.
The winning essays, reprinted here, demonstrate excellent student writing and creative thinking. These essays, and the assignments that prompted them, demonstrate how works from the traditional and expanded canons inform each other and shape our understanding today of the literatures and peoples of America. We thank all the students who entered essays in this fourth annual contest and all the instructors who shared their assignments with us. Instructors are free to duplicate these essays and assignments for classroom use without requested permission.
First Place Essay
Title: A Return to Sanity from "The Yellow Wallpaper"
A Return to Sanity From "The Yellow Wallpaper"
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman rank as two of the most outstanding champions of women's rights who were active during the nineteenth century. Both professed a deep and personal faith and both were wise enough and secure enough to develop their own ideas and relationship with their creator. In 1895 Stanton published The Woman's Bible, her personal assault on organized religion's strangle-hold on the women of the world. Gilman published her short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" in 1892. She wrote the story, she said, "to save people from being driven crazy" (Golden 52). The heroine of "The Yellow Wallpaper" finds her only escape from the oppression of a condescending spouse is a headlong descent into madness.
Stanton and Gilman met at least once, about 1896 according to Gilman's autobiography. "Of the many people I met during these years I was particularly impressed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. To have been with her . . . seemed to establish connection with a splendid period of real heroism" (Gilman 216). Perhaps if the philosophies of these two great women were to come together, at the perfect moment, they would possess the potential to save the heroine of "The Yellow Wallpaper." The following scenario might prove feasible.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman l
I was climbing up a mountain-path
With many things to do,
Important business of my own,
And other people's too,
When I ran against a Prejudice
That quite cut off my view.
The Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
amended, with apologies,
by Margaret A. Stanton
The heroine of "The Yellow Wallpaper" has been brought to the country by her husband to speed her recovery from a depression, possibly a post-partum depression. She has been told she may do no work of any kind. She must not read, write, sew, or tire herself with daily chores. Over her objections her husband has insisted she take her ease in the top-floor nursery of the house, a large room with barred windows. In her boredom she has taken to studying the wallpaper in the nursery. It is a ghastly yellow color with an intriguing and intricate pattern. In the paper she discovers the ghosts that are haunting her desolation.
There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will.
Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numinous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don't like it a bit (Gilman, Heath 806).
So I spoke to him politely,
For he was huge and high,
And begged that he would move a bit
And let me travel by.
He smiled, but as for moving! --
He didn't even try.
I wonder -- I begin to think -- I wish John [my husband] would take me away from here!(Gilman, Heath 806).
Jennie has taken the baby for a visit to the garden. I hope they stay long and partake of the luscious grapes and seat themselves under the arbor until evening.
Someone is coming up the path. I see her through these great barred windows. I must go let her in. Do I have the strength?
I would never have guessed in a thousand years that so great a lady as the wonderful Elizabeth Cady Stanton would have come to visit me. She heard of my poor plight in the village and came to see what she could do to help me recover.
It is amazing the fire and power emanated by the suffragette. Short of stature and matronly, with tightly coifed snow-white hair and fleshy rotund torso, no one would guess the passion encased in that grandmotherly being.
I fear John would be upset. I must never let him know.
My work was such that could not wait,
My path quite clearly showed,
My strength and time were limited,
I carried quite a load;
And there that hulking Prejudice
Sat all across the road.
She says I need not rest as much as I need work. Something to occupy my active mind, she said. It does sound delicious, but John would never hear of it, I know. He is so well set against taxing my feeble mental capacities. I am certain he is convinced this malady has been brought on by strain pursuant to my seeking a higher education (Golden, 45).
Mrs. Stanton says I must do something other than lie all day abed. She says I must gather my courage and act against John. What a difficult thought. She says, nonetheless, ". . . all (that woman needs protection against today is man . . ."(DuBois, 123). My difficulty, she says, is John's power over me. I can speak of this to no one. It tires me so to try and understand it.
And then I begged him on my knees;
I might be kneeling still
If so I hoped to move that mass
Of obdurate ill-will --
As well invite the monument
To vacate Bunker Hill!!
Mrs. Stanton comes daily now. We go to the nursery, that hideous yellow wallpapered room at the top of the house. We draw our chairs into the light from the widows and we read the scriptures.
Mrs. Stanton has her own Bible. She wrote it herself, she said. A colossal collaboration of highly learned women, discussing and dissecting age-old passages. Mrs. Stanton and nineteen more. She says to me,
Come, come, my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles, and see that the world is moving. Whatever your views may be as to the . . . proposed work, your political and social degradation are but an outgrowth of your status in the Bible . . . How can woman's position be changed from that of a subordinate to an equal, without opposition, without the broadest discussion of all the questions involved in her present degradation? For so far-reaching and momentous a reform as her complete independence,
an entire revolution in all existing institutions is inevitable (Stanton, vii).
. . . We say that these degrading ideas of woman emanated from the brain of man, while the Church says that they came from God (Stanton, 8).
We discuss what we have come to believe and I can feel life returning to me. There are times, however, times when she is not near to lend me her strength, times when I falter and doubt. Then, once more, the morbid fatigue overtakes me. Upon her return she takes me to task and fairly rails against me.
Society, as organized today under the man power, is one grand rape of womanhood, on the highways, in our jails, prisons, asylums, in our homes, alike in the world of fashion and of work.... To this end we need every power to lift her up, and teach mankind that in all God's universe there is nothing so holy and sacred as womanhood (Stanton, 123-4).
All this talk about the `indissoluble tie,' and the sacredness of marriage irrespective of the character and habits of the husband, is for its effect on women. She never could have been held the pliant tool she is today but for the subjugation of her religious nature to the idea that in whatever condition she found herself as man's subject, that condition was ordained by Heaven. . . (Stanton, 136).
Her fierce indignation ignites in me an urgency to be healed and to walk
from this horrid room and write, paint, and sew until I decide I am ready to quit. John has forbidden me any such pastimes.
So I sat before him helpless,
In an ecstasy of woe --
The mountain mists were rising fast,
The sun was sinking slow --
When a sudden inspiration came,
As sudden winds do blow.
I should feel that I had not lived in vain if faith of mine could roll off the soul of woman that dark cloud, that nightmare, that false belief that all her weaknesses and disabilities are natural, that her sufferings in maternity are punishment for the sins of Adam and Eve, and teach her that higher gospel that by obedience to natural laws she might secure uninterrupted health and happiness for herself and mold future generations to her will.... her power is second only to that of God . . .(Stanton, 137).
Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to . . . I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was. John is so pleased to see me improve! He laughed a little the other day, and said I seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wallpaper (Gilman, Heath 808).
It is only three weeks more and we are scheduled to return to our home in the city.
I really am ever so much better. Elizabeth Stanton and I take long and conversational walks in the lovely gardens. My body is responding to the fresh air and the stimulating conversation. At last I am forming a plan in my mind.
I know now the great religious truth for me. It is to find my special duty and do it at all costs (Living of Gilman, 42). I know I must use my talents to forward the work of Elizabeth Stanton and Susan Anthony and the others. I must expose this oppression of the women of world.
As Elizabeth Stanton says,
"This is my idea of freedom, . . . to fight (the unjust law) where it is, and fight it to the death" (Stanton, 129).
I will tell John of my decision tonight!!
"My darling," said he, "I beg of you, for my sake and for our child's sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for an instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?" So, of course, I said no more on that score, and we went to sleep before long. He thought I was asleep first, but I wasn't and lay there for hours trying to decide . . .(Gilman, Heath 807).
Mrs. Stanton and I have discussed many times what I should do. I shall never regain my total health unless I follow my call. In spite of John I must do what I must do.
"The freer the relations are between human beings, the happier...," she says (Stanton, 135).
"When woman is man's equal the marriage relation cannot
stand on the basis it is today" (Stanton, 132).
One week more and my escape from this horrid place will be accomplished.
I took my hat, I took my stick,
My load I settled fair,
I approached that awful incubus
With an absent-minded air --
And I walked directly through him,
As if he wasn't there
Our mistake was mutual. If I had been stronger and wiser I should never have been persuaded into it. Our suffering was mutual too, his unbroken devotion, his manifold cares and labors in tending a sick wife, his adoring pride in the best of babies, all coming to naught, ending in utter failure--we sympathized with each other but faced a bitter necessity (Gilman, 97).
I think divorce at the will of the parties is not only right but that it is a sin against nature, the family, the state for a man or woman to live together in the marriage relation in continual antagonism, indifference, disgust. A physical union should in all cases be the outgrowth of a spiritual and intellectual sympathy and anything short of this is lust and not love. . .every divorce helps to educate other wives similarly Stanton, 129).
. . . [I]n the new regime, when she holds her place in the world of work, educated to self-support, with land under her feet and a shelter over her head, the results of her own toil, the social, civil and political equal of the man by her side, she (woman) will not clutch at every offer of marriage. . . (Stanton, 135).
I thought there was no life for me other than that of wife and mother. I was sorely mistaken. The oppression from even an attentive spouse, if he cannot hold the wife in esteem as his equal, is enough to strangle the life from an intelligent and intuitive woman, or sentence her to a life of imprisonment by the twisting, convoluted, suicidal pattern of some insipid yellow wallpaper.
To escape the wallpaper I must also escape the strangling, tenacious bonds of matrimony.
I approached that awful incubus
With an absent-minded air--
And I walked directly through him,
As if he wasn't there!
DuBois, Ellen Carol, ed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton/ Susan B. Anthony: Correspondence, Writings, Speeches. Schocken Books, NY: 1981.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison: 1990.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, "The Yellow Wallpaper" The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Second Edition. Gen. Ed. Paul Lauter. D. C. Heath and Co., Lexington, MA: 1994.
Golden, Catherine, ed. The Captive Imagination: A Casebook on The Yellow Wallpaper . The Feminist Press at The City University of NY: 1992.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. The Woman's Bible. NY European Pub. Co.: 1895-98. Northeastern U. P., Boston: 1993.
1 The poem "An Obstacle" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is used as an epigraph by Catherine Golden, ed. The Captive Imagination: A Casebook on The Yellow Wallpaper (The Feminist Press: NY City UP, 1992) vii.
Second Place Essay
Title: How I Found It!
Journal Entry 479875
It's amazing. God has smiled upon me today--the 23 of June, 1993--the sixth day of house hunting. In my search for a place to abide in (for my first semester of College at Knoxville, Tennessee College for Writers), I've experienced incredible luck. This luck has been mostly compacted into these last 10 hours.
I was tired of house hunting, so, I decided early this morning that I wanted to go to the house of George Washington Harris, an early American humorist, who wrote in the early 1800s, to see if I could better understand the reasoning behind the things he wrote and where he got his inspiration. I'm always looking for inspiration myself. I thought, "I need a rest. I think I'll enrich my literary education, and who knows, maybe I'll be able to catch ahold of that creative (thickly-accented) muse that spoke in Harris's ear. However, the tour was boring, and the only thing that struck me during the tour--and I'm not sure why-- was that Harris had a favorite nephew named Julian.
Feeling very rested and literarily enlightened, I decided to continue my house search. While still thinking things out and aimlessly driving, I spied a very old house that was up for sale. I thought, "What would be the hurt in stopping?" So I stopped. It was obvious that the people who were there had no love for the house which was devoid of furniture and seemed to sing a very worn and dreary song--a song that had a chorus of "I'm old. I'm old. I'm old."
I talked a little with the owners. They told me that they had just inherited the house from some uncle they never knew and were trying to "sell it quickly so we can get back to a more normal life." They seemed stressed about the whole ordeal.
I asked them if they knew the history of the house, and they replied that all they knew was what the lawyer told them. The house was over 140 years old and had belonged to a man named Julian Harris, the couple's uncle's grandfather. I wasn't sure at first if my ears had been truthful to me. I asked if they had said "Julian Harris." They replied in the affirmative. I was intrigued and asked if I could look around.
I didn't find anything of interest until I looked in the attic. And the attic contained only a trunk. I thought, "What would it hurt if I looked inside?" So I did. Now this is the incredible part! I found an original 1850s manuscript written by George Washington Harris for his nephew. It was in a letter addressed to Julian that said something to the effect of, "I know how much you like my stories so I wrote this one just for you. Get over the sickness you've got. Blah, blah, blah. So on and so forth." The letter had the actual manuscript in it. It's called "Sut Lovingood's Tale about a Turkey."
Being an expert on Harris's life and writings, I quickly checked through the story to make certain that this wasn't just the work of some near-perfect imitator. The tale revolved around Sut. It was told through Sut's mouth with Sut's dialect. It contained common situations that got out of hand. It checked out. I admit, for a second I thought about claiming that I wrote the story myself; however, my conscience spoke up and I thought, "No, I need to reveal this new story to the world! `Sut Lovingood's Tale about a Turkey' is a Harris original and deserves to be placed with all of his other stories, and then nearly forgotten like the man himself." The owners were glad that I took it off their hands.
Sut Lovingood's Tale about a Turkey
"Hit wer about two yers ago, George. At Thanksgivun time or ther in, thereabouts."
"What are you talking about, Sut? Or are you too liquored-up to make sense?" said I.
"Nuw, jis' wait nuw; ef I dunt tail the Tale thets a-bilt up aind a-swerlen inside ove me, I'll swell ep an' burest. Did I tel yu the story `bout Har Wilson's turkey, an' how hit giv us so much truble? Hit near `bout burnt ar house down."
"What'd you say, Sut? A turkey set yer house a-flame?"
"Hit's whut I'm sayin. Hit wur a Thanksgivun Nuvember. Mam and the fambly wus gettin reddy tu scoot off sum wurse. The whole Luvingood fambly always, evry Holiday, cums an ate ove et our huse. But it wurnt like we wur ovrly-joyfel `bout hit. Mi unkls, like the devil a'cussed Unckl Nub Natkin, and Ants, lik Ant Nel Tresser-onle womin et evr cud out-cuss mi Daddy, they'd cum tu ar hous et Thanksgivun time. So, thet wer the time whun Mam ud pak everbudy up an we'd leave tu se if we cud spend a Thanksgivun with-out ar ner useless rulashons. Mam always wus sayin, `Hit haint the Luvingood's ar a'needin more rulashuns et lie rund dunin not-a-ner-durn'd-thin. We a'reddy got yu, Sut, an yur Daddy fur duin that.' George, I do try my best."
"I'd say you pretty well mastered it, Sut. But get to your story about Har Wilson's turkey."
"I's just a-bot thar. Like always, evin tho wee tri'd ar bes to giv ar relashons the slip thay found us lik always. So arter a fifteen mile chase we all walk'd back tu ar hous, but on the way we war thinkin' thet Thanksgivun wernt eny thin' unlus yu gots sumfin tu be eatin. Daddy an I happin'd tu see Har Wilson's farm. An suddenly daddy an I was inspard tu lib'rate a turkey an a chickin we had saw, frum thar chanes ove bondige an' slav'ry. Fer-shich thay wer mitey thankfel. Thay ceem'd so happy all the way a-til we killed'em."
"Now wait a minute, Sut, I thought you said the turkey gave you trouble?"
"Hit did, but nawt til hit war dehd!" Sut took another drink and placed his legs on the table (He would have needed two tables if he had stretched his nearly eternal legs to their full length.)
"Yu see, George, wen Mam war kleenin out the turkee, the rest ove us war aw-redy bein' free-hand'd with the jin, until Daddy wint up on the roof taking all the jin wit hem. It didn't supprise us. Thet's war he gose evertime the relashons cum over. We new, a-soonen az Dad blak'd out an fell off the ruf, we'd git the jin bak. An' hit din'nt luk like thet'd take all thet long. However, Mam dasid'd tu put the turkey on the fire, an needed the jin tu baste et. Thar warn't no way arownd it. I had tu git the jin, fer the turkee, frum Dad.
"I showted up ta hem, `Hey, Dad! Yu durn'd fool, why don't ya tawse me down one a thim jugs up'air, so's Mam cin stirt the turkee a-kookin awn the fir?' Dad din'nt sa a-thin fer a minute. The durn'd mule jist sit thar an let his eye-bawls roll a-rown in his hed. Then he stud up an walk'd tu the edge a the roof an dasides he was en a frame ove mind tu cuss et eny man he saw. I showted agin. `Thro us one ove thim jugs, ore pass out perty sooen Dad. Mam needs it fer the d--d'd Thanksgivun turkey!' I was stirtin tu git intu tha same cuss'd nachir Dad wur en. An', Lawd nos, Ant Nel hed ben in thet frame a mind fer sum time now.
"I got an idear an' showted, `Why'nt ya thro sumfin et Ant Nel tu shet hir up.' Dad's eyes brighten'd a lit'l. `Thro one ove thim jugs et her!' Dad smil'd a gret big fool smile an wawddled up tu the top ove the ruf. He almust sliped-which wud-ove solv'd ar problims jis' as wel, but he made et tu the top. He pict up the closes jug an hurled it et Ant Nel's hed. The jug broke an' all the jin wint ever-wher-wich warn't reely mi plan. But Ant Nel wur out cold so et least mi sperrits razed a lit'l. Dad's sperrits seem'd tu raze tu. He got mor resonable an he showted, `Sut, yu lazy cusin ove a mule, thro the turkey up here an' I'll baste et on the ruf.'
"Unckl Nub an' I tawsed up the turkee tu Dad. An' while Dad wus tryin' tu figur out exacly wot tu du with the great wite naked burd, I thawt tu miself `bout how I awt tu be drinkin and livin et up an' luking fer a love-makin opportunity-things ove wich I wud truly be thankfel-insteda bein trapped en tha howse wif mi famly who aint no better off thin I em. Thinkin' ove thet made me cuss a lit'l more. I showted up tu hem, `Hey, Dad, Mam wants the turkey bak down sune as yu baste et." Dad started pourin one ove the jugs on the turkey an'we sez, "Thro et down." Then he wint tu the next jug, then the next one, til he'd used up all the jin `cept one private jug he kept fer himself. Unckl Nub was near in tears cause ove all the wasted jin thet streamed off the ruf. Arter ever jug wer used, `cept one et Dad kept fer himself, Dad stopped and jis' look'd at the turkey. Et mus' a ben `bout a hundred proof. He stopped fer a second, then lifted the turkey up tu the sky.
"I look'd et him an' sez, `What `chu duin, Dad?' He wur jis' a-standin thar wif the turkey en his hans flappin the turkey up an' down. Then he sez, `Sut, yu think a turkey kin fly evin win ets dehd?' I luk'd over tu Unckl Nub, looked back et Dad an' say'd, `Dad, turkeys caint fly even win thar a-livin.' He kipt on a-flayin the turkey's nak'd wings an say'd, `Well, maybee et can fly win ets dehd then; whin it ain't got all thim heavy fethers on.'
"Befor Unckl Nub an' I new wot was wot, Dad tuck the turkey by the wings an' threw et straight up en the air over hes hed. Unckl Nub an' I watch'd as the turkey wint up and thin fell right down the chimbly. Dad turn'd aroun' an', not sein the turkey, he begin jumpin' up an' down yellin', `Fly! Fly!'
"Mam, an' all mi cozins an' relashons ran out ove the hous. Smoke wus coughin out ove the door. I looked et Dad up thar flappin his arms an jumpin up an down. Then I luked et all mi cusins, an' ants, and unckls, an' relashons who war all angry an hoppin' up an' down, shakin thar fists et Dad. An' I bigan tu think `bout how Dad hed brought us all tugether. We wer all duin one thing as a fambly. Thin I thawt, "Wel, this aint haf as bad as most ove ar get tugethers.' An I started feelin' a tuch proud. I thawt, "The Luvingoods hav ar own trudishuns an' ar own holiday stile ets all ar own.' An fer thet I felt a mite thankfel. But thet only last'd a second.
"I looked up an showted tu Dad, `Yu craze-fool wood-pecker, quit a flopin' up an' down. Yu dun thru the turkey down the chimbly.' Dad turned an' loked at me, all confused-like. I sez agin, `Why `nt yu go over an' look fer yerself.' He walk'd up tu the chimbly an' stuck his hed in so he cud haf a good lok. He must a seen the turkey stuck thar a soppin' an' soak'd, permeated til thar ain' no way thet turkey cud hold eny mor jin. But he on'y saw et a second cause, right win he stuck hes hed in the chimbly, the turkey desided tu unstuck etself an' fall right en the far. Dad's bastin' had made the turkey more jin then turkey, result'd in a great Gawd-Amighty eruption ove flame thet came outta the chim'ey et least ten feet high. Luck fer Dad he chose this time tu finally black out an fall off the roof. I run over tu whar he was an' tuck the jug he had kept. Then I ran off and wached as the flame started lickin up the jin on the ruf. Mam wus callin fer a bucket line tu put out the ruf but everybudy said they had tu start footin it back home. So Mam an' I watched as ar house burnt down. Nobudy wus really hirt. Dad din'nt have a hair left on hes hed but et din'nt bother us none. The relashons wer all gone so ar sperrits wer right high. An' we all had a drink in thanks tu the turkey who wus able tu git rid ove ar fambly fer us. An' we evin had another drink tu thank the durn'd fool et thru et down the chimbly.'"