The reader is initially introduced to this passage from Turned by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, with a stark and shocking image of formerly dignified woman overwhelmed by grief and convulsions. With little prerequisite understanding of either the woman or the cause of her sadness, the reader is immediately engulfed in the pursuit of that cause. However, it is only through Gilman’s use of characterization, shifts in tone, and continuous ambiguity that the ultimate cause of Mrs. Marroner’s sadness is revealed.
From the first sentence, Mrs. Marroner’s emotional demeanor is contrasted with her lavish surroundings and her formerly dignified self. Gilman uses triads which contrast with one another to demonstrate the odd juxtaposition of Mrs. Marroner’s expansive wealth and her immense sorrow. For example, the room in which Mrs. Marroner sobs “bitterly, chokingly, despairingly” upon is described in the first sentence as a “soft-carpeted, thick-curtained, richly furnished chamber.” Therefore, the author seeks to demonstrate the humility that has befallen her even in her well-to-do surroundings. Gilman further demonstrates this humility in additional use of contrasting diction and triads. For example, Mrs. Marroner’s character of prestige and wealth is described as dignified, self-controlled, and proud (line 5) while her state of mind has succombed to ‘overwhelming unbelievable horror, an immeasurable loss, a turbulent, struggling mass of emotion’ (lines 5-6). Not only are the triads used contrasting her former character with her current state-of-mind, but they allude to a cause for such a reaction.
The reason for Mrs. Marroner’s reation is, however, not immediately revealed but remains ambiguous even as the author alludes to it with the subsequent description of Gerta’s grief. Unlike Mrs. Marroner, Gerta is not described using contrasting triads but is described as lacking physical means and suffering emotionally. For example, she lives in an “uncarpeted, thin-curtained, poorly furnished chamber” and is “convulsed with agony.” Therefore, Gerta and Mrs. Marroner appear to be bound together by some interconnected problem that has brought ruin to both of their lives. Such a problem is still held in ambiguity by the author, but is alluded to by the statement that Gerta “wept for two” (line 16). Therefore, it is likely that Gerta is pregnant but that still leaves the reason for Mrs. Marroner’s grief ambiguous.
As a means of showing the interconnectedness of Gerta and Mrs. Marroner’s lives, Gilman creates a flashback beginning on line 21. The characterization of Gerta that follows serves to establish a foundation for understand the Marroner’s relationship and fondness of Gerta. For example, the Marroner’s view her as “a meek young goddess” who is “strong, beautiful, full of goodwill, and eager obedience” (lines 21-22). However, Gerta is also seen as ignorant and childish and is thus cared for by Mrs. Marroner as her daughter. Even the very appearance of Gerta is described as “rich womanhood without, helpless infancy within” (lines 31-32) which explains why she is particularly humbled by her pregnancy. However, Mrs. Marroner’s reaction is still ambiguous.
In fact, the ambiguity as to why Mrs. Marroner’s reaction to Gerta’s pregnancy seemed so profound doesn’t become clear until an evident shift in tone occurs at line 35. At this point in the passage, Mr. Marroner leaves for unspecified business, which keeps delaying his return home. His lengthening stay seems to create an increasingly tense and uncertain atmosphere especially with his oddly worded consolations for his absence and frequent references to Gerta. Such odd inquiries into the state of Gerta leaves the reader wondering whether this is the cause of Mrs. Marroner’s previously stated ‘bitter jealousy and outraged pride’ (lines 15-19). Even though a specific cause of her anguish is not stated, a dynamic shift in the relationship of the Marroner’s and Gert has occurred from the beginning of the flashback to this point. This shift in tone is also further developed by the subsequent development of seemingly flirtatious character in Gerta. For example, Gerta is educated by Mrs. Marroner to have “more reserve with men.” However, the reader is led to believe that the ultimate cause of Mrs. Marroner’s grief is her husband’s possible involvement with Gerta.
Although this possibility of infidelity is alluded to throughout the passage, Gilman confirms the reader’s inquiries with the concluding statement that “at last she suspected her of something, which could not be denied” (lines 71-72). Through the confirmation of the ambiguous cause for both Gerta and Mrs. Marroner’s grief as an interconnected issue of infidelity and a subsequent pregnancy out of wedlock, Gilman creates an atmosphere of tension and suspension. Gilman is able to create an almost circular chain of events that further develop the relationship of Gerta and Mrs. Marroner and finally resolve the ambiguity of the passage.
In this passage Charlotte Perkins Gilman expressed the turmoil and personal conflict of Mrs. Marroner through imagery and flashbacks. Gerta’s role in this passage is revealed through the use of diction. Mrs. Marroner discovered the truth about her husband and Gerta. Imagery also plays a role in contrasting the women.
Imagery use in this passage reveals to the reader how emotional Mrs. Marroner is to have discovered such a secret. “She sobbed bitterly, chokingly, despairingly; her shoulders heaved and shook convulsively; her hands were tight clenched” explains all the emotions Mrs. Marroner felt. Her emotional state is quite distraught. The description of Gerta’s emotional state is contrasted with Mrs. Marroner’s. Gerta is simply “sobbing on the narrow hard bed,” her emotions are not as violent and aggressive as Mrs. Marroner’s own emotions – “sobbing bitterly, chokingly, and despairingly.” The description of the rooms in which they were in, were described also. Those also are contrasting one another. Mrs. Marroner comes from money while Gerta is not wealthy. The imagery allows the reader to see the difference in the women in the start of the passage.
Diction is the technique that reveals the role Gerta has in this passage. Simple words like “meek,” “young,” “childish” and “ignorant” are used frequently to describe Gerta’s persona which is quite the opposite. Reading without understanding exactly what is happening does not allow one to see the real meaning behind Gerta seeming so innocent. Mrs. Marroner thought she was quite the perfect, innocent child while Mr. Marroner “had frankly admired her.” Mrs. Marroner viewed Gerta in a way that was not exactly true of who Gerta was. Gerta was having a sexual relationship with Mr. Marroner. Word choice in the phrase “helpless infancy within” reveals that Gerta could be pregnant. How could Gerta be a “girl of eighteen” but also be a helpless infant. It’s a contradiction. Later clues like the quotation around little Gerta in line 52 indicates something more than just Gerta herself. Gerta’s role and personality are contemplated. The diction surrounding the descriptions of Gerta indicate more than just her innocence.
The use of flashbacks are also important. Mrs. Marroner is thinking back on the situation. In paragraph 8 line 21, the tense changes into past tense. From there the events of Gerta coming into her life are laid out. Mrs. Marroner pinpoints certain things she did not notice about Gerta until now, knowing Gerta is pregnant with Mr. Marroner’s child. Mrs. Marroner is remembering all of the things that changes about Gerta during that time which pointed to the beginning of the pregnanacy. Mr. Marroner inquired about “little Gerta” while he was “away,” conveniently, for seven months. The flashbacks are what allow Mrs. Marroner to piece the clues together, which reveals the affair her husband was having.
This passage incorporates many literary features. The relationship between Gerta and Mr. Marroner is the underlying truth that is to be revealed to the reader. The pregnancy is made apparent in the beginning but the emotional part isn’t understood until a note on certain literary aspects is made. Diction, imagery and flashbacks are used in this passage to express the emotional state of Gerta and Mrs. Marroner, reveal Gerta’s role and personality and to reveal the affair between Mr. Marroner & Gerta.
A stark contrast between setting and events sets the mood through imagery in the first line of this passage from Gilman’s Turned. Mrs. Marroner exists in a state of miserable disrepair amidst a lavish, comfortable bedroom. Gilman continues expressing the gravity of distress this woman is trapped in with more descript imagery, followed by saying that in her emotional state, Mrs. Marroner had “forgotten her dignity, her self-control, her pride.” as well as all her expensive attire. This introduction to Mrs. Marroner personalizes the reader’s perception of her with an uncertain sense of sympathy for a woman of such esteem to be so broken. Her sense of helplessness is materialized in a metaphorical memory of a seemingly near-death drowning experience in her past at York Beach.
Gilman then introduces the reader to Gerta Peterson, a young girl in the same home who is equally distraught for an equally unknown reason. She is introduced with a description of her bedroom in the same format as with Mrs. Marroner, but her status is set apart by the contrast in diction between a “soft-carpeted, thick-curtained, richly-furnished chamber” and an “uncarpeted, thin-curtained, poorly furnished chamber.” Gerta’s uninhibitive personality is eluded to in the statement, “She did not try to control herself. She wept for two.”
The despair of the two women is soon identified as “the wreck and ruin of a longer love” for Mrs. Marroner and “a hopeless future, and a looming present” for Gerta, followed by an elaboration of Gerta’s origin at the Marroner home. It is assumed that the Marroner’s took her in as an “apprentice” of some sorts for some particular reason, to raise and educate her though she was already eighteen. A certain dim-wittedness is implied about her through the tone established in the diction that concerns her.
The next twenty-five lines entail the departure of Mr. Marroner on a business trip that is supposed to require less than a month, but is still in progress after seven months. Here is revealed the source of distress for Ms. Marroner. Though not directly stated, Gilman implies that Ms. Marroner longingly misses her husband, and as a result becomes somewhat detached from her friendly relationship with Gerta. Her husband continually sends her lovingly-written letters with apologyfor his delay and promise of alacrity in his return.
The last four paragraphs direct the focus onto Gerta as the narrator equates her to a substitute for the child that Mrs. Marroner never had. A great love for Gerta is expressed as if she were a baby because “to the woman [Mrs. Marroner] who held a Ph.D., who had been on the faculty of a college, it was like baby-tending.”
Despite Gerta’s immaturity and unintelligence, Ms. Marroner tries very hard to instill her values in her, at the least. She was pleased when she sensed Gerta’s newly found reserve with men, as she had been trying to teach her, but Gerta experiences a complete change in personality, an anxiousness and timidness that makes Mrs. Marroner uncomfortable. The passage concludes with an undisclosed mysterious feeling when Mrs. Marroner suspects the change is due to homesickness or illness, but then “suspected her of something which could not be denied.” This remains too vague to draw any likely conclusion, but the mention of Mrs. Marroner’s jealousy earlier in the passage may suggest that Gerta’s shift in personality could be a longing for Mr. Marroner as well.