“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman Essay
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and “The Story of An Hour” by Kate Chopin presents two women, Louise and Charlotte, who tries to overcome their controlling husbands to achieve individual freedom. The stories were both feminist. Webster’s dictionary defines feminism as the belief that women should have economic, political, and social equality with men. In these two stories, the women fight for social equality with men as they struggle to have the freedom to do what they want.
In “The Yellow Wallpaper” the narrator suffers from a mental disorder, instead of helping her recover, he refuses to acknowledge her problem. “John is a physician, and perhaps–(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind) – perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. You see he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do? If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency – what is one to do? My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing” (Gilman 431).
It is frustrating to the narrator to have her husband and brother to dismiss her illness as a mere temporary condition. “It is a false and foolish fancy”(Gilman 437). He believes that putting her in confinement would cure her problem, but he does not even understand her illness. He is a physician, so he only understands physical illnesses. Yet he jumps to the conclusion that she has no sickness, and she has to accept it, because he is a man of high standing.
This assumption does not help her sickness, in fact, Jane, the narrator believes that it’s the reason why she cannot get better. But it is pointless for her to argue, since her brother, also a physician of high standings affirms the diagnosis. She is not allowed to have her opinion, it is dismissed as soon as it is said. She feels guilty to even think her husband is wrong about her sickness, as she “take pains to control myself – before him at least, and that makes me very tired.” (Gilman 432). Jane has her opinions, but to no avail, she has to take her husband’s orders.
The story goes on to show the control the husband has over Jane and her daily activities. He puts her in a house, allowing no visitors, “work” or any form of excitement that may harm her health. He controls her daily schedule. “I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more.” (Gilman 432). He takes control of every aspect of her life, including her desire to write. This only makes her situation worse. “Personally I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.
But what is one to do? I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal – having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.” It is not the actual writing that wears out Jane, it is having to hide her writing due to her husband’s opposition that makes her so tired. She can’t even be with her baby. “Such a dear baby! Yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous.”(Gilman 433) She knows that if she can’t escape his control, she can get better, but that is an impossible option.
John behaves more as a paternal figure to Jane than a husband. He puts her in a nursery despite her protests. “No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.” He does not expect her to ‘behave’ on her own, he doesn’t even expect that she can’t take care of her own child. “Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little goose, and said he would go down cellar, if I wished, and have it whitewashed into the bargain.” “Blessed little goose”, it is not a name that a husband would call a wife. “What is it, little girl?” said John. (Gilman 436) The narrator is not treated as a spouse, instead she receives the treatment due to a child.
“Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard.” (Gilman 439). In the same way, the narrator behaves according to her husband’s wish during the day under the watch of others, and at night she watches the wallpaper. This also shows that, as the story went on, the narrator becomes more resistant to her husband, and gains some freedom to do as she pleases. John advises her not to mind the wallpaper, yet she continues to watch it and study it. By the end of the story she completely defies her husband, and rips off the wallpaper.
In “The Story of An Hour” the main character, Louise Mallard is introduced to us as a woman with heart trouble. So the other character takes care not to shock her too much as they brought her the news of her husband’s sudden death due to an accident at work. “She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance.” (Chopin 1). She accepts the news immediately, and weeps accordingly. A woman who is more satisfied with her marriage would probably not accept the news.
After Louise heard the news of her husband’s death, she brings herself to a room, and thinks about her new found freedom now that Brently is no longer here to control her. “She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’ the vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.” (Chopin 2). As she realizes the possibilities of her new life, her vision suddenly becomes very clear. The excitement relaxes her entire body, as the years of tension from being under the control of her husband leaves her body.
Although she grieves her husband’s death, she is more excited about the possibility of a new life it brings. “She knew that she would weep again when saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.” (Chopin 2). From now on, Louise will live for herself, free of her husband’s control.
The irony of the story is the death of Louise due to a heart disease, when Brently comes home alive. The other characters all expected Louise to have complications when hearing news of Brently’s death, yet it is his homecoming that causes her demise. With Brently coming home, Louise dies along with her hopes and dreams of freedom as her own woman.
The stories “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story of An Hour” deal with the suppression of women by males typical of the time period, late 1800s. It was a time of oppression for women, they were expected to conform to her husband’s ideal and live under his control. The women in the stories tries to overcome their controlling husbands and struggles for their individual freedom.