Date on Senior Honors Thesis
Senior Honors Thesis
College of Arts and Sciences
madness; hysteria; feminism; feminist literary criticism; fiction; film
This project examines the use of female insanity and anger in narrative fiction, as demonstrated by the character of the madwoman. Madness is a concept that has long been gendered female throughout Western history, in medicine, language, religion, and culture. Socially and culturally constructed madness can be used to determine the boundaries of society, the norms and values from which “madness” deviates, while the character of the madwoman can be used to demonstrate how women have challenged these boundaries and how the roles of women and definitions of femininity have changed over time. This study analyzes the madwoman trope from its origins in etiological myths—situating women as dangerous, irrational, and subordinate to men—through modernity and the waves of feminism, as seen through the following works of narrative fiction: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Black Swan dir. Darren Aronofsky, and Midsommar dir. Ari Aster. This project builds upon previous feminist critiques and relevant scholarship on women and madness, examining ancient literature as well as modern works. Through specific examples in narrative fiction, I argue that the character of the madwoman illustrates the perceived boundaries of women in society in conjunction with the changing roles of women and definitions of femininity, with the use of female insanity and anger moving from a place of vilification to one of validation.
Haralu, Lindsay, "Madwomen and mad women: an analysis of the use of female insanity and anger in narrative fiction, from vilification to validation." (2021). College of Arts & Sciences Senior Honors Theses. Paper 239.
Retrieved from https://ir.library.louisville.edu/honors/239
This project examines the use of the madwoman character in narrative fiction as it changes within the context of different waves of feminism. The figure of the madwoman is characterized by her apparent insanity and extreme emotion; however, the madwoman can further be examined as a character in opposition to the norms and values of a society. As such, female madness as a social and cultural construct can be used to delineate perceived boundaries within society and their implications for women. In this thesis, I aim to demonstrate these boundaries and the usage of the madwoman character in narrative fiction as she rages against them. Broken into two sections, I examine the development of the madwoman trope and its history, as women have long been situated as both threatening and subordinate to men, and then how the implementation of the trope has changed in conjunction with the changing roles of women and definitions of femininity.