An essay on ‘A String of Beads’ by W.Somerset Maugham and ‘The Yellow wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman  

Aspects of the metanarogical framework by Andrea Macrae can be explored and exposed through the narratives: ‘A String of Beads’ by W.Somerset Maugham which, which both narratives are not genre specific, Beads explores issues of class and social prejudice and ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman explores the issues of the mental stability of a doctor’s wife.  Andrea’s metanarological framework helps illuminate these issues using metalepsis and metadiscursive signifiers, helping the reader understand the writer’s volition.

In Princes[1] definition of metanarration, he explains “the passages or units in a narrative that refer explicitly to the codes or sub codes in terms of which the narrative signifies are metanarrative and constitute metanarrative signs”, this refines the narration in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, the narrative is constituted as diary entries by the nameless protagonist whom is also the narrator. It is a process of her mental stability- she had been diagnosed with severe depression- as well as her captivity. As for ‘a String of Beads’, the narration is much more complex, the narrative is in a diagetic metaleptic form, it dips in and out the time and space of the metanarrative which is the Beads story and into the smaller narrative, such as the idle chatter. So ‘a String of Beads’ contains two narratives within one, one narrative (smaller) is of the two women at a restaurant gossiping and choosing dinner, an interesting aspect of this narrative is rich in feminist issues- the trivial concern with weight and fat as well as the issue of gossiping whereas A String of Beads digs into class and social issues.

A representative of femininity and masculinity is also most prominent in both narratives. The central male characters are, although crucial in helping the development of the narrative are not characters explored in-depth-there is no character development with them- they are mere instruments in forwarding plots.  On the other hand, the men seem to be the most ‘stable’ and ‘fair’ characters, this juxtaposition between the sexes brings on the question of patriarchy. In ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, John, the narrators husband whom is also a doctor, has recognized and attempts to stabiles his wife’s problems in the most affectionate way possible with attentiveness and kindness (the narrator acknowledges this fully even if she suggests that he is keeping her prisoner by the woman in the wallpaper metaphor). She gives him a loving profile but the lack trust in her narration and indeed lack of the narrators name is crucial in defining her role- she is a representation of women in general not just herself. Femist readings have risen the idea of “patriarchal discourse, and, second, through her close reading of the story, she problematizes the image of the wallpaper, thereby calling into question the notion of women’s discourse.”[2]. Here Karen Ford brings up the issue of communication between characters both in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and a ‘String of Beads.’

Communication is an important aspect in a String of Beads, the narrator is joined by her friend Laura who persists in a “story to tell”[3], she gossips to her friend about an occasion of “luck” and essentially class prejudice. Feminist theories are that gossip is “a way of talking between women, intimate in style, personal and domestic in scope and setting, a female cultural event which springs from and perpetuates the restrictions of the female role, but also gives the comfort of validation.” [4] Here we are presented with Laura, the gossip who is deemed as an untrustworthy source, she is presented as fickle and a simpleton in combination with the fragmentation of their communication which digresses greatly between the idle chatter of whether soup has too much fat and the “report” on the beads by the narrators interruptions.  This digression unlike ‘The Yellow wallpaper’ which is fairly non-digressive as well as in one straight forward time continuation, Beads suggests a weak communication between the two characters involved in the gossiping. The narrator attains an authorial status by the fact that she is not keen in hearing this gossip or in taking part in it; “I particularly wanted t have the chance of talking to you. I’ve got a story to tell” At this my heart sank a little. “I’d sooner you talked about yourself,” I answered. “or even about me”.[5]  And she carries this on thoroughly, frequently trying to change the subject which also suggests that she has heard Laura telling “stories” therefore giving her a sense of better judgement.

It is implicit whether in ‘A String of Beads’ if Laura is telling the truth or not as we seem to get the impression that she may be untrustworthy- or at least that she is a notorious gossiper as we see that the narrator is unwilling to hear another of her gossips but she also seems to over state and convince the fact that she is telling the truth “It happened to some friends of mine. Its perfectly true.”[6] Or “Well, you can ask them and they’ll confirm every word I say”.[7] This over qualifying of the reliability of her story has therefore much the opposite reaction, her need to assure the narrator seems a need to convince herself of the truth of it too but mostly the narrator of ‘Beads’ because her inattentiveness towards the story may suggest that she has been previously and rather frequently been given false information by her as is also suggested by her reference to a play “You might as well have written a play and wanted to read me that”[8] again suggesting that both the play and her story would probably have equal truth in them. Implicitness however is throughout ‘a String of Beads’ unlike ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ where it is rather explicit about its themes of the mental progression of insanity and captivity, ‘a String of Beads’ explores the themes of class prejudice through the possession of jewelry and those who posses it and those surrounding it, the fact that a governess would have had this necklace pertaining to so much instantly brings ideas of theft to their minds  “Sophie Livingstone turned pale as death…I saw she was wondering if everything was all right in her jewel case, I only had on a little chain of diamonds, but instinctively I put my hand up to my neck to feel if it was still on there”[9].  Rather than believing her story of fortune “Well, I made a very good bargain,” she said, “Because I paid fifteen shillings for it”. [10]   On the other hand, doubts can be expected as at a governesses wage it would never be affordable, another suggestion could be that Miss Robinson could be a con person who cleverly manipulates her gawping audience especially Laura who states “you know how stupid some woman can be”[11] referring to Miss Robinson but in reality to herself.

Disturbing illusions are physically illustrated in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ “The front pattern does move- and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there are great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over”, we follow the development of these illusions through the development of her sanity- the narrator becomes the woman being the bars of the wallpaper she detests so much. She becomes engrossed and more a part of that which becomes detestable too her.  These disturbing illusions become metaphoric, the woman behind the yellow wallpaper is a metaphor of her sanity- she is trapped behind bars, unable to be let free and kept a prisoner for her illness… it is also a metaphor for women and their freedom, not just mentally but physically. Which is a suggestion of the narrators own feelings and thoughts, she feels imprisoned by those she loves most as women can feel in a domestic, patriarchal household. ‘A Sting of Beads’ are also metaphorical, a metaphor for class confliction and how when the Mary Lyngate shows off her beads- though expensive are no big deal but when the governess does it is suddenly a scandal. There are a group of friends for dinner at the Livingstones (a prestige family) and they had called their governess to join them, class distinction is instantly brought to the surface “They’d asked their governess to come in to dinner because some woman had thrown them over at the last moment”[12], this suggests the governess was not initially important enough to invite, she was a last resort however it is not just those facts it is also the manner in which Laura describes this- the term “some” in “some woman”  suggests that that “woman” was disposable- but for her to have warranted a seat at dinner more than the governess anyway suggests that they including Laura all look down on her. Laura goes on to degrade the role of the governesses “I would never engage a governess who was young and pretty…the chances are that she’ll be thinking of young men instead of attending to her duties”[13] this is extreme prejudice within social structure and bigotry (furthermore implying distrust towards Laura).

‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is certainly a selective and story orientated metanarration, the metadiscursive expression found naturally in diaries is that we select what we consider to be scenes and thoughts worth writing about and orientate around them. Therefore, especially considering the narrators mental stability, how can we trust and believe her rationality in her thoughts of captivity? Someones precious thoughts are another’s disposable ones. This is very similar to ‘a String of Beads’ as it is a story being recalled from an unreliable source. Quite naturally, whether intentionally or unintentionally, when recalling something that happens, we tend to maybe exaggerate and miss parts of a story, therefore orientate around the specific bits we focused on at the time, just as Laura probably would have making it unreliable and selective.

In combination with feminist readings as well as Macraes critical apparatus for understating these forms of metanarration, it has become progressively easier to illuminate a narratives ‘purpose’. Through metanarration and its interpretations of the ways a character is beheld , both narrators of these metanarratives conclude to be unreliable, w’hether it is Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and the narrators mental decline  and centred narrative which is clarified through metadiegetic discourse, metanarration and deixis or if it is Maugham’s ‘a String of Beads’, Lauras gossip which disregards her reliability is made apparent through the types of metanarration such as communication levels and selective forms. Nunning’s typology of metanarration has helped greatly in defining these aspects between the two narratives, helping define their meaning as well as give the reader a freedom to make their own conclusion by attacking various angles.


  • Jones Deborah, ‘Gossip: notes on women’s oral culture’. Cameron, Deborah. (editor) The Feminist Critique of Language: A Reader. London/New York: Routledge, 1990, pp. 242–250.
  • Macrae Andrea, Enhancing the critical apparatus for understaning metanarration: Discourse Deixis
  • Somerset Maughham, William, A String of Beads, From Collected Short Stories, Vol1, London Pan Books, Ltd 1975, pp. 444.450
  • Perkins Gilman, Charlotte, The Yellow Wallpaper, in the Oxford Book of American Short Stories by Joyce Carol Oates (oxford: Oxford university press, 1992) pp.153-162

[1] Andrea, p3

[2] Ford, Karen (Autumn 1985). “”The Yellow Wallpaper” and Women’s Discourse”

[3] A String of Beads, p444

[4] Jones Deborah, ‘Gossip: notes on women’s oral culture’. Cameron, Deborah. (editor) The Feminist Critique of Language: A Reader. London/New York: Routledge, 1990, pp. 242–250.

[5] A string of Beads, p444

[6] A String of Beads p444

[7] A string of Beads p445

[8] A string of Beads p444

[9] A String of Beads p447

[10]  A String of Beads p446

[11] A String of Beads p448

[12] A String of Beads p445

[13] A String of Beads p446

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