Irony and imagery in The Yellow Wallpaper And The Story Of An Hour: Female Identity, Selfhood, And Liberation

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” check out concepts of female identity and selfhood, and more significantly, female freedom. These authors provide their female characters as self-assertive in a favorable manner; however, the characters likewise acknowledge that the journey for ideal feminine flexibility, liberation, and selfhood in the oppressive environment of a patriarchal society is incredibly difficult due to social examination, self-scrutiny, the entrapment of the convention of marriage, and other social establishments. Gilman and Chopin utilize specific literary tools, prominently meaning, paradox, and abundant images to expose the inner themes of female freedom, patriarchal injustice, and the female identity.

In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator and her partner retreat to a vacation home to treat her “worried anxiety” and “small hysterical propensities” (Gilman 1184). Gilman’s story instantly begins with the narrator’s point of view that males, particularly males’s ideas, are better than females’s concepts. Right away exposing the injustice that the storyteller’s husband puts in on her, she mentions, “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own partner, guarantees pals and relatives that there is actually absolutely nothing the matter with one however short-term depression– a slight hysterical propensity– what is one to do? My brother is likewise of high standing, and he states the same thing. Personally I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I think that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me excellent. However what is one to do?” (Gilman 1184)

This immediately reveals to the audience that the narrator is oppressed by guys; her other half’s and sibling’s expert opinions are enough to silence her, and make her submissive to their guidelines. In this period, men were superior; their ideas, beliefs, morals and guidelines ruled everything.

Paula A. Treichler, a Women’s Studies scholar and professor at the University of Illinois, touches on this in her short article about “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

It is the male voice that benefits the rational, the practical, and the observable. It is the voice of male reasoning and male judgement which dismisses the superstition and declines to see the narrator’s condition as serious. It imposes controls on the female storyteller and dictates how she is to view and speak about the world. It is enforced by the “ancestral halls” themselves: the guidelines are followed even when the physician-husband is missing. (Treichler 66)

Gilman expresses this patriarchal injustice, and absence of control through meaning throughout the story.

The very first significant sign Gilman uses is the yellow wallpaper itself; Gilman consistently highlights the wallpaper and how the narrator responds to it. The very first time the storyteller discusses the yellow wallpaper, she specifies, “The color is repellant, nearly revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, oddly faded by the slow-turning sunshine … I ought to dislike it myself if I had to live in this space long” (Gilman 1185). The color images within the passage mirrors the narrator’s mindset, sickly and ill. Little understanding that she would be prisoned in the room for long periods of time, the narrator gradually starts to see an “item behind” the wallpaper. She specifies, “I didn’t understand for a very long time what the important things was that revealed behind that dim sub-pattern and now I am quite sure it is a lady. By daytime she is suppressed, quiet. It is the expensive pattern that keeps her so still. It keeps me quiet by the hour” (Gilman 1191). The storyteller likewise mentions that it appears as if the female behind the wallpaper is allured by “bars,” exposing that the female remains in a jail of sorts; this woman behind the wallpaper signifies the storyteller.

Gilman uses the sign of the wallpaper to show the lack of liberty the narrator has. Simply as the wallpaper– with it’s locking up pattern– entraps her, so does her physician-husband; he allures her body and mind, restricting things such as writing, and even going beyond the home. Gilman likewise utilizes the bed as a major symbol within “The Yellow Wallpaper” to reveal the narrator’s entrapment. The narrator says, “I lie here in this great immovable bed– it is pin down, I believe” (Gilman 1189). This bed, unmoving, heavy, and damaged, represents the narrator’s lack of liberty. The bed is unmoving, simply as the narrator is; she tries to move the bed, and the bed is unfaltering– matching the activity of the narrator. This “rest treatment” prescribed by her partner, bro, and general doctor render her useless; she can not work, she can not paint or write, and she can not move from your house, this triggers a significant wear and tear of her mindset.

In addition to the bed, Gilman uses a window to represent the storyteller’s freedom, or absence thereof. Within the story, the storyteller continuously discusses windows, beginning in a favorable light and slowly morphing into an unfavorable light. She mentions the windows supply “air and sunshine galore,” and she delights in looking at the garden and the wharf (Gilman 1188). The window at first is a delighted, joyful thing within the space; it enables access to a little portion of flexibility. Nevertheless, as the story progresses, she then begins to hate the barred windows because they allow her to see things she can not have. She mentions, “I can see her [the female behind the wallpaper] out of each of my windows! … I frequently question if I might see her out of all the windows at the same time” (Gilman 1193). In the end, the window symbolizes the narrator’s inaccessible freedom. She says, “I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To leap out of the window would be an admirable workout” (Gilman 1194). The window is her access to flexibility; nevertheless, being disallowed and unescapable, it also signifies her injustice, her lack of free will, and her unreceived liberation.

The questionable subjects within”The Yellow Wallpaper” caused a literary uproar, so Gilman responded with a letter entitled “Why I Composed ‘The Yellow Wallpaper'”. Within the letter, Gilman explains that the narrative is semi-autobiographical; Gilman herself was identified with “nervous breakdowns tending to melancholia and beyond” (Gilman 1203). A well-known doctor recommended her to stay on the “rest remedy” and sent her house with the advice to “live as domestic a life as far as possible,” to “have but 2 hours of intellectual life a day,” and “never to touch a pen, brush, or pencil again” as long as she lived (Gilman 1204). Gilman states, “I went house and followed those instructions for some three months, and came so near to the borderline of utter mental destroy that I could see over;” Gilman eventually went to work quickly after her mental mess up, ultimately recovering some step of power.

At the end of the letter Gilman states,” [” The Yellow Wallpaper”] was not planned to drive people insane, but to save individuals from being maddened, and it worked” (Gilman 1204). Within “The Yellow Wallpaper” Gilman gives light to mental illnesses and the value of free will, and the female identity. Utilizing the symbolism and imagery of the wallpaper, the nailed-down bed, and the disallowed windows, Gilman develops a strong theme within the story, and reveals the importance of female liberty and identity. Within the very same societal message as “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “The Story of an Hour” revolves around themes of female freedom, identity, and the entrapment of marriage.

Just as Gilman does, Chopin makes use of signs throughout the piece to check out these themes; however, she makes use of much more paradox and images to reveal the themes than Gilman makes with “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Emily Toth, a noted Chopin scholar, states that “amongst Chopin scholars there have actually always been gender spaces. Chopin’s male critics of the early 1970’s in particular were prone to declare that Chopin’s works are “universal” rather than feminist, about the human condition rather than the ladies. Practically all of these claims are wrong” (Toth 16).

Crucial analyses of Kate Chopin’s works easily evoke a note of tension in between females and the society surrounding them. This connection between women and society, more particularly ladies and their partners, appears within Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”. The story starts with a third individual omniscient storyteller stating that Mrs. Mallard struggles with “heart difficulty” and great care was needed to break the news of her partner’s death. Mrs. Mallard immediately weeps, as one expects, and then quietly goes to her den to be alone. As she is appreciating the spring day, she unexpectedly begins to exclaim “free, free, complimentary!” (Chopin 67). Mrs. Mallard enjoy this new-found liberty, little knowing that she would soon be startled dead by her hubby walking through the front door.

The first major sign within the story is the heart difficulties Mrs. Mallard experiences, specifically describing the heart itself. The heart is, societally speaking, traditionally a symbol of a person’s psychological core. Her physical heart troubles in life signify her psychological turmoil in her marital relationship. It is likely that Mrs. Mallard’s heart troubles likewise represent the peril of the entrapment of marital relationship in the 19th century– completely based around inequalities and the imbalance of power. Mrs. Mallard herself is a symbol within the story, as well. She is an exhausted lady, young and quite, however with “lines that bespoke repression” (Chopin 67). She represents females within this time frame– caught in marital relationship and unable to discover joy within it, constantly fighting the thoughts of society vs. selfhood, and what ultimately makes a person happy.

Upon returning to her den to gather her thoughts, Mrs. Mallard sinks into an armchair. The storyteller states, “There stood, dealing with the open window, a comfortable, spacious arm-chair. Into this she sank, pushed down by physical fatigue that haunted her body and appeared to reach into her soul” (Chopin 66). After sinking into this arm-chair, her discovery begins– she can be totally free. This arm-chair represents rest from the social expectations of marriage, she can discover solace in this arm-chair just as she will find in life. Chopin likewise utilizes rich imagery to express Mrs. Mallard’s need for independence from her husband. While in her research study, Mrs. Mallard sinks into an arm-chair and sits with her ideas of her spouse’s recent death. She weeps for a brief time period; nevertheless, contrary to social expectations, she begins to enjoy this time in her study. The narrator says:

She might see outdoors square prior to her home the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the brand-new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was int he air. In the street below a peddler was sobbing his wares. The notes of remote tune which somebody was singing reached her faintly, and numerous sparrows were twittering in the eaves. (Chopin 66)

Chopin is making a direct correlation between the brand-new spring day and her brand-new quivering, awakening life. The abundant images such as “aquiver with the new Spring life,” “tasty breath of rain,” and “sparrows twittering,” expresses the new discovered freedom Mrs. Mallard will have– just as a Spring day is frequently a new beginning, or the start of something new, Mrs. Mallard’s life reflects this Spring day. Chopin’s usage of images is likewise reflected in the description of the “patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had actually met and piled one above the other in the west dealing with window” (Chopin 66). These are images of happiness; the blue patches of sky expose her brand-new, happy life peaking through the injustice of her marital relationship.

Chopin’s usage of paradox in “The Story of an Hour” is weaved throughout the whole story, however is more present at the end of the piece. By then:

There would be nobody to live for her during those coming years: she would live for herself. There would be no effective will bending hers in that blind perseverance with which men and women think they deserve to enforce a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intent or a vicious objective made the act seem no less a criminal offense as she considered it in that quick minute of illumination.(Chopin 67)

Mrs. Mallard, near the end of the story, is certainly complimentary. She is chanting of liberty, she is quivering with freedom, she has finally been launched from the chains of marriage– the consistent struggle between caring a spouse or being contented with a spouse. Mrs. Mallard “unexpectedly acknowledged her self-assertion as the greatest impulse of her being,” (Chopin 67). As Josephine kneels at the door, she hears Mrs. Mallard sobbing, little knowing it is not because she is weeping for her hubby, but because she is enthralled with new-found freedom. This scene restates the social expectation that ladies are weak, over-excited, “nervous,” or in general a hysterical mess. On the contrary, Louisa is shouting “Free! Body and soul complimentary!” (Chopin 68).

Toth states of Chopin, “Like many authors, Chopin utilized her stories to ask and resolve concerns– in her case, about marriage, motherhood, independence, passion, life, and death. Where she appears to make choices, she prefers solitude, nearly constantly in a positive context” (Toth 24). In lieu with Toth, Chopin makes it clear that Mrs. Mallard is definitely reveling in her new-found privacy; there is absolutely nothing but hope and delight of her new life ahead of her. Josephine eventually coaxes Louisa out of her research study and, when strolling she’s down the stairs, Brently Mallard appears; Mrs. Louisa Mallard passes away immediately. The storyteller mentions “When the medical professionals came they said she had actually passed away of cardiovascular disease– of joy that eliminates” (Chopin 68). This paradox in this declaration is clear to the audience: Mrs. Mallard did not die from happiness or happiness of seeing her hubby alive, however from shock of her new-found liberation immediately ripped from her grasp.

Gilman and Chopin’s stories explore concepts of female oppression that are still appropriate in today’s society. These authors make use of literary gadgets such as images, paradox and meaning to express reviews on the convention of marriage, and the negative impacts that this ritual can have on females. Chopin and Gilman show methods which marital relationship and female injustice can cause madness; women require to work, to create, to live and breathe to be successful and healthy. The review on marital relationship is obvious to the audience through the authors’ diction and syntax within the narratives, and flourishes with the rich imagery, strong signs, and situational paradox.

Works Pointed out

Bauer, Margaret.”Chopin in Her Times: Vital Essays on Patriarchy and Womanly Identity”. Durham: Duke UP, 1997. JSTOR. Web. 9 Oct. 2014.

Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” 40 Brief Stories: A Portable Anthology. Fourth ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 66-68. Print.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper”. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Seventh ed. Vol. C. Boston: Wadsworth, 2014. 1184-1197. Print.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “Why I Composed the Yellow Wallpaper”. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Seventh ed. Vol. C. Boston: Wadsworth, 2014. 1184+. Print.

Toth, Emily. “Kate Chopin Reflects Through Her Mothers: Three Stories by Kate Chopin,” Kate Chopin Reconsidered, ed. Lynda S. Boren and Sara deSaussure Davis (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1992), p. 24. JSTOR. 7 Oct. 2014. Treichler, Paula A. “Leaving the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in “The Yellow Wallpaper” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature second ser. 3.1 (1984 ). p. 61-77. JSTOR. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

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