February 3, 1995
The President of Mills College called me cynical last Tuesday, and I wanted to say, “Me? Cynical? Never! I’m constantly amazed!” (I think I remember these lines from an old Doonesbury.) It was the first day of the Women in American Fiction class, and we were discussing The Yellow Wallpaper, this two-bit short story published as a book all about how this poor woman is prevented by her evil husband from writing, so she develops a decorating fixation and starts gnawling on bedposts. This is a slight exaggeration, but the book does manage to combine the worst features of a gothic and a tract. I said this, and the President, who teaches the class, called me cynical, and I didn’t say a word.
Then she gave us a little lecture on The Unreliable Narrator and then we went around the table talking about how pertinent this story was to contemporary life and people trotted out the term, Unreliable Narrator. I really am constantly amazed.
I argued with everyone very cheerfully, and no one responded, but after class a woman came up to me and said, “I’m really glad you’re in the class. It’s a different point of view.” And you know I love all compliments, but why didn’t she respond to anything I said in the class? Why is it always afterwards? And of course it’s because everyone except me knows that you don’t say what you think in a class. You wait until afterwards. And that is cynical.