Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper in 1892, a time of misunderstanding about mental illness and a society where women had little power. The author had had bad experiences with men and doctors. Undoubtedly, this is the inspiration base for writing the paper. In the story, a woman goes crazy for an insensitive husband-doctor, a horrible treatment, and yellow walls. It is written in the first person through entries in a diary, and it exposes a mind that is going crazy. The yellow wallpaper tries to use the story to talk about these topics such as feminism and the truth about mental health. We see how a story is used, which at first glance seems simple, to put us in tension over the prejudices of women and mental illness in this era.
The Yellow Wallpaper is a text that is increasingly gaining notoriety in the feminist milieu. The character created by Charlotte to depict her own terrifying experiences begins the tale, written in a diary format, narrating that her husband, a doctor, diagnosed her with a case of hysteria, apparently arising out of nowhere and, as a treatment, decided to change with the wife to a country house extremely isolated from any contact with the outside world.
As soon as she arrives at the house, the woman feels that there is something strange, a greater and negative force hovering over the place. Even after telling this to her husband, he does nothing more than laugh and calls her a "silly person". One can clearly see John's power of influence over the narrator. She cannot take a step without her consent, she cannot question him about his "illness" (after all, he is a doctor and possessed of absolute truth) and even the room in which they settle is chosen by him: a nursery, whose only window is surrounded by bars, furnished only by a large and heavy bed and decorated with a yellow wallpaper that catches the woman's attention right away.
John laughs at me, of course, but that's to be expected at the wedding. John is practical to the extreme. He has no patience for matters of faith, he feeds an immense horror of superstition, and openly mocks any conversation about things that cannot be seen or felt or translated into numbers."(The Yellow Wallpaper, p. 14)
Little by little the character observes strange things in the pattern of the drawings of the paper. She even sees fungi, like mushrooms sprouting from the walls and she sees human features in a place that once seemed empty.
It is faded enough to confuse the eye that follows it, intense enough to irritate and incite its examination all the time, and when we follow its imperfect and doubtful curves for a while, they suddenly commit suicide - they sink into inconceivable contradictions. (The Yellow Wallpaper, p.17)
The excerpt above, taken from the first deep look the character makes about the wallpaper, shows how the society sees the women who flee from the doctrines and the impositions inflicted upon them. "Imperfect and dubious curves," fugitives of a determined and insurmountable pattern, and which, in the end, culminate in contradictions that put them on the brink of social suicide: the death of self by patriarchy.
The narrator often claims to see more women together at the head and, in order to free them, decides to tear out the wallpaper pattern from outside the walls of the room. At this point in the narrative, at the end of the story, the woman stands as the woman who crawls, which can make the reader confused about the truth of the supposed hallucinations, but make no mistake: all women, oppressed, bruised, killed both literally and psychologically, are the narrator herself and all the atrocities to which she had been subjected. The tale ends with John entering the room and watching the woman who, crawling, finally finds her freedom, but under an animalistic bias, a unique vision related to the women who went against the patriarchal society, as well as Charlotte.
Not infrequently in society, women are called "crazy." Whether at the end of a relationship, becoming someone's "crazy old girlfriend," attempting a career seen as "masculine," dressing the way she pleases or denouncing abuse, there will always be someone pointing a finger at the accuser and doubting his position and sanity. Charlotte's literature-denunciation bubbles, bothers, depresses and reveals what is inside all women: the suffering of mistrust, mistreatment, and lack of support from others.
Similarly, The Storm by Kate Chopin is a short story inspired, perhaps, in the feelings that women hide and tear inside when they are caught by the yoke of an unjust and macho society. The protagonist, Calixta, acts in an autonomous way in the satisfaction of her desires that until then were suppressed by the patriarchal society. This behavior is seen here as a subtle form of criticism of patriarchalism as regards the right to feel desires (sexual or not), placing female protagonists in situations that go against the ideal of women in a society dominated by hegemonic and masculine discourse.
While Calixta's husband and son are in town in a store, a storm is approaching that prevents them from returning home where Calixta was alone "seated by a side window, sewing furiously on the sewing machine. She was very busy and did not notice the storm approaching"(CHOPIN, 2011, page 48). The first image we have of the protagonist, as in the story "The Yellow Wallpaper", is that of a woman totally dedicated to the family, as she is considered ideal in a patriarchal society.
Upon realizing the storm, she goes to the porch to collect the clothes that were on the clothesline and finds Alcee Laballiere. Calixta had already met him at Assumption a few years ago, when she was single, and by whom she had been kissed. The description of Calixta's room, made by the narrator, "her bedroom, with Bibi's [son]'s bedroll next to the bed of the couple" (CHOPIN, 2011.p.49) corroborates the role of annulment, self- Calixta, for example) assumed to marry. Because, as mentioned earlier, even living in a patriarchal society, it seems to be in the role of wife and/or mother that woman reaches the apex of submission and annulment of herself. After a few exchanges of words, and feeling somewhat disturbed by the presence of Alcee and with the noise of the rain,
She went to the window and stood there, a look of great disturbance on her face. Alcee got up and joined her, looking out over Calixta's shoulder... Lightning struck a higher cinnamon on the edge of the field that bordered the road. He filled all the visible space with a blinding flash, and the shock seemed to hit the floorboards where they stood. Calixta put her hands to her eyes and with a cry, she staggered back. Alcees arm took hold of her, and for a moment he pulled her into a spasm (CHOPIN, 2011, p.49-50).
We perceive how the elements of nature collaborate, in this synesthetic image, to mobilize the vision and touch that contribute to the (re) approximation of the body of the characters who feel their desires appearing dormant. After this fright, Alcee tries to calm her, he approaches and touches her, adjusting her hair, and soon Calixta "looked up at him, the fear in his liquid blue eyes had given way to a dull glow that unconsciously denounced a sensual desire He returned the look [...]"(CHOPIN, 2011, p.50). From this new mobilization of sight and touch both kissed, and thus it was impossible to resist the desire,
They ignored the torrential rain, and the roar of the elements of nature made Calixta laugh as she lay in Alcees arms. It was a divine revelation, in that room full of penumbra and mystery white as the bed in which he lay (CHOPIN, 2011, p.51).
At this moment of realization/fulfillment of their desires, we perceive that the influence of the touch between them and of the "clashes of the elements of nature" (hearing), are integrated for the attainment of joy, the satisfaction of a repressed desire that becomes clear at the moment
He touched her breasts, they surrendered stiffly, in a trembling ecstasy, an invitation to the lips of Alcee. [...] He remained snuggled over her, breathless, dazzled. Weakened, the heart beating like a hammer about her. [...] The growl of thunder was distant and was slowly muted. The gentle rain hitting the roof was an invitation to laziness and sleep - which they did not dare to accept (CHOPIN, 2011, p.51).
After the storm, when the husband and son return, we can see a certain inversion of roles, since her husband comes home with a can of shrimp in order to please his wife, and she, even after having had an extramarital relationship, receives him with good humor and smiling, showing no sense of guilt or regret.
The protagonists of the respective tales, Mrs. Charlotte and Calixta, are symbols of the ideal of woman for the patriarchal society (nineteenth century in the case), except in the moment in which, stimulated by sensations captured by their senses they surpass, for a moment, the self-sacrifice and self-annihilation by a need for personal satisfaction. In a patriarchal society, the biological differences between men and women are institutionalized in a group of social and cultural rules specific to each gender defined as the norm. Thus, such a model of society is organized in genres where man assumes a superior role while the woman, the simple reproducer who has to give up her desires to serve her family, assumes the secondary role, that of the dependent of man. These sexual differences form the basis for the creation of ideals of what is or should be, a man and a woman on the part of society, forming the representations of gender (male and female). That is, society not only creates the ideals, the representations of general, but also the relations between them, in which feminine and masculine are arranged as in a 'dichotomy', the male pole being more valued.
In the same way as the genre, our sexuality is not given by nature either. Although each subject is born with a sex, the behaviors, desires, and feelings are influenced (or created) according to the gender relations, organized by society. Thus, we can say that sexuality is an experience that begins to be created in us, and for us, in which girls at an early age, for example, perceive their sexuality as something to be hidden while the boys perceive it as something that must be expressed. This explains the tendency of women, even today, to conceal or even forget such feelings and desires, since such sensations and thoughts go against what the world expects of a woman, that is, of the ideal/representation of what is to be a woman. This denial of pleasure, in addition to conflicts, reaffirms the inequality of gender relations.
These types of gender relations and representations, though much less rigidly, still exist, since (patriarchal) society and its control mechanisms-symbols, norms, values, and institutions-builds and maintains these relationships. It is in this patriarchal setting described in this section, more specifically, in the nineteenth century, in the American context, in which the short stories of the writer Kate Chopin, "The Storm" and "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman were published.
Chopin, Kate. The Storm: A Sequel to 'The 'Cadian Ball'. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2011. Print.
Hamilton, Carole L. The Collegial Classroom: Teaching Threshold Concepts through Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. CEA Critic, 77(2): 2015, pp. 211-222.
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