Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” all share a common theme: a character in each work deals with an obsession over something. This theme of obsession ties in with a trip I took to Washington, DC this past weekend. Obsession has a certain effect on our actions, and can be different for every person. Some obsession is negative and some is positive.
In Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark,” Aylmer, a scientist, is married to Georgiana, who is perfect in every way, but has a small birthmark on her cheek. Aylmer initially thinks little of it, but as the story progresses, he becomes obsessed with the birthmark, shuddering at the sight of it. He even dreams about removing the birthmark, and doing whatever it takes to get rid of it, even cutting out Georgiana’s heart. When Georgiana realizes that Aylmer can’t stand the birthmark, she demands him to try and get rid of it. Aylmer experiments on her for a while, coming up with a dangerous potion that could get rid of the birthmark. When Georgiana drinks the potion, the birthmark starts to fade, but when the birthmark is almost gone, Georgiana dies. Aylmer’s obsession with Georgiana’s single imperfection caused him to go to extreme lengths, and inadvertently killing his wife.
In Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a new mother—who is the narrator—and her family go to a house for the summer, where the narrator is put in an upstairs room to rest. She finds “something queer” about the house, and especially the room she is staying in. Most striking to her is the wallpaper, which has been torn up like someone has been doing it before. She keeps a journal in which she describes the wallpaper, the yellow color and smell, and an image she begins to see behind the wallpaper. She thinks it is an image of a woman who was previously trapped there. On the last day of summer, she locks herself in the room and tears down all the wallpaper. When he husband comes to the room later, she is seen tearing the wallpaper, claiming that she is free. The narrator’s obsession with the wallpaper caused her to go insane.
In Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” the speaker writes of a beautiful landscape. When he looked at the landscape, he didn’t fully realize the true beauty of it. He says it was something a poet could never forget, and whenever he is by himself, the memory flashes back to him and “his heart fills with pleasure.” One could say the speaker is obsessed with this landscape, but it doesn’t have any negative effects on himself or anyone else.
On my visit to Washington, DC, I visited the National Museum of Crime and Punishment. One of the exhibits had to do with serial killers. One of the most prolific serial killers of the 20th century was Ted Bundy. He had a specific way of kidnapping and killing his victims, which often had to do with him charming his victims, or faking an injury. He also targeted specifically young girls and women. Serial killers have a meticulous way of carrying out their crimes, and many call it an obsession. Obsessions have many different effects on people, some good and some bad.