“Who Run the World? Girls.” — An Exploration on Female Liberation, Selfhood and the Entrapment of Marriage through Symbolism, Imagery, and Irony in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story of an Hour” Anonymous College

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” explore ideas of female identity and selfhood, and more notably, female freedom. These authors provide their female characters as self-assertive in a favorable manner; however, the characters also acknowledge that the journey for perfect feminine flexibility, freedom, and selfhood in the overbearing environment of a patriarchal society is exceptionally challenging due to social analysis, self-scrutiny, the entrapment of the convention of marriage, and other social establishments. Gilman and Chopin utilize particular literary tools, prominently meaning, irony, and abundant imagery to expose the inner themes of female freedom, patriarchal injustice, and the female identity.

In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the storyteller and her husband retreat to a vacation home to treat her “anxious depression” and “minor hysterical tendencies” (Gilman 1184). Gilman’s story instantly begins with the storyteller’s point of view that men, specifically men’s ideas, are better than women’s ideas. Immediately revealing the oppression that the storyteller’s spouse applies on her, she states, “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own hubby, guarantees friends and family members that there is truly nothing the matter with one however short-lived depression– a minor hysterical propensity– what is one to do? My brother is likewise of high standing, and he says the same thing. Personally I disagree with their concepts. Personally, I think that congenial work, with excitement and modification, would do me good. However what is one to do?” (Gilman 1184)

This immediately reveals to the audience that the storyteller is oppressed by men; her hubby’s and sibling’s professional opinions suffice to silence her, and make her submissive to their rules. In this period, guys transcended; their ideas, beliefs, morals and policies 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 useful, and the observable. It is the voice of male reasoning and male judgement which dismisses the superstitious notion and refuses to see the storyteller’s condition as severe. It imposes controls on the female narrator and determines how she is to perceive and discuss the world. It is enforced by the “ancestral halls” themselves: the rules are followed even when the physician-husband is missing. (Treichler 66)

Gilman expresses this patriarchal oppression, and lack of control through symbolism throughout the story.

The very first significant sign Gilman makes use of is the yellow wallpaper itself; Gilman repeatedly stresses the wallpaper and how the narrator responds to it. The first time the narrator discusses the yellow wallpaper, she specifies, “The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering dirty yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight … I ought to dislike it myself if I had to live in this room long” (Gilman 1185). The color imagery within the passage mirrors the narrator’s mindset, sickly and ill. Little understanding that she would be prisoned in the space for long periods of time, the narrator gradually begins to see an “object behind” the wallpaper. She specifies, “I didn’t recognize for a very long time what the thing was that showed behind that dim sub-pattern now I am rather sure it is a lady. By daylight she is suppressed, peaceful. It is the expensive pattern that keeps her so still. It keeps me peaceful by the hour” (Gilman 1191). The narrator also states that it appears as if the lady behind the wallpaper is entrapped by “bars,” revealing that the lady is in a prison of sorts; this woman behind the wallpaper symbolizes the storyteller.

Gilman utilizes the sign of the wallpaper to reveal the absence of liberty the storyteller has. Simply as the wallpaper– with it’s locking up pattern– allures her, so does her physician-husband; he allures her body and mind, limiting things such as composing, and even going outside of the home. Gilman also uses the bed as a major sign within “The Yellow Wallpaper” to reveal the narrator’s entrapment. The storyteller says, “I lie here in this excellent immovable bed– it is pin down, I think” (Gilman 1189). This bed, unmoving, heavy, and ruined, represents the storyteller’s absence of flexibility. The bed is unmoving, just as the storyteller is; she attempts to move the bed, and the bed is unfaltering– mirroring the activity of the storyteller. This “rest remedy” prescribed by her other half, bro, and general physician render her worthless; she can not work, she can not paint or compose, and she can not move from your house, this triggers a major deterioration of her mental state.

In addition to the bed, Gilman utilizes a window to signify the narrator’s liberation, or absence thereof. Within the story, the narrator constantly points out windows, beginning in a favorable light and gradually changing into a negative light. She mentions the windows supply “air and sunlight galore,” and she takes pleasure in looking at the garden and the wharf (Gilman 1188). The window initially is a pleased, joyful thing within the room; it enables access to a small chunk of flexibility. However, as the story progresses, she then begins to hate the barred windows since they enable her to see things she can not have. She mentions, “I can see her [the lady behind the wallpaper] out of each of my windows! … I often wonder if I might see her out of all the windows simultaneously” (Gilman 1193). In the end, the window represents the narrator’s inaccessible flexibility. She states, “I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be an admirable workout” (Gilman 1194). The window is her access to liberty; however, being barred and unescapable, it also signifies her oppression, her absence of free choice, and her unreceived liberation.

The questionable subjects within”The Yellow Wallpaper” caused a literary uproar, so Gilman reacted with a letter entitled “Why I Composed ‘The Yellow Wallpaper'”. Within the letter, Gilman discusses that the short story is semi-autobiographical; Gilman herself was diagnosed with “nervous breakdowns tending to melancholia and beyond” (Gilman 1203). A well-known physician prescribed her to stay on the “rest remedy” and sent her home with the recommendations to “live as domestic a life as far as possible,” to “have however two 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 home and followed those directions for some 3 months, and came so close to the borderline of utter mental mess up that I might see over;” Gilman eventually went to work shortly after her psychological mess up, ultimately recuperating some step of power.

At the end of the letter Gilman states,” [” The Yellow Wallpaper”] was not intended to drive individuals insane, however to conserve people from being maddened, and it worked” (Gilman 1204). Within “The Yellow Wallpaper” Gilman gives light to mental illnesses and the significance of free choice, and the female identity. Using the significance and images of the wallpaper, the nailed-down bed, and the disallowed windows, Gilman develops a strong style within the story, and exposes the value of female freedom and identity. Within the exact same social message as “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “The Story of an Hour” revolves around themes of female freedom, identity, and the entrapment of marital relationship.

Simply as Gilman does, Chopin makes use of signs throughout the piece to explore these styles; however, she utilizes far more irony and imagery to express the styles than Gilman does with “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Emily Toth, a kept in mind Chopin scholar, states that “among Chopin scholars there have actually constantly been gender spaces. Chopin’s male critics of the early 1970’s in specific were susceptible to declare that Chopin’s works are “universal” rather than feminist, about the human condition rather than the women. Practically all of these claims are wrong” (Toth 16).

Vital analyses of Kate Chopin’s works easily stimulate a note of stress between women and the society surrounding them. This connection between females and society, more specifically ladies and their spouses, is apparent within Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”. The story begins with a third person omniscient narrator specifying that Mrs. Mallard experiences “heart difficulty” and terrific care was required to break the news of her spouse’s death. Mrs. Mallard right away weeps, as one anticipates, and then quietly goes to her den to be alone. As she is admiring the spring day, she suddenly starts to exclaim “complimentary, complimentary, totally free!” (Chopin 67). Mrs. Mallard savor this new-found flexibility, little knowing that she would soon be shocked dead by her spouse strolling through the front door.

The very first major sign within the story is the heart problems Mrs. Mallard experiences, specifically referring to the heart itself. The heart is, societally speaking, traditionally a sign of a person’s emotional core. Her physical heart difficulties in life symbolize her psychological chaos in her marriage. It is most likely that Mrs. Mallard’s heart troubles also represent the danger of the entrapment of marital relationship in the 19th century– totally based around inequalities and the imbalance of power. Mrs. Mallard herself is a sign within the story, as well. She is a tired female, young and pretty, however with “lines that bespoke repression” (Chopin 67). She represents women within this time frame– caught in marriage and not able to find happiness within it, constantly fighting the thoughts of society vs. selfhood, and what eventually makes an individual delighted.

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

She might see in the open square prior to her house 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 listed below a peddler was sobbing his items. The notes of distant tune which somebody was singing reached her faintly, and numerous sparrows were twittering in the eaves. (Chopin 66)

Chopin is making a direct connection in between the brand-new spring day and her brand-new quivering, awakening life. The rich images such as “aquiver with the new Spring life,” “delicious breath of rain,” and “sparrows twittering,” reveals the new found liberty Mrs. Mallard will have– just as a Spring day is often a fresh start, or the start of something new, Mrs. Mallard’s life reflects this Spring day. Chopin’s usage of imagery is also shown in the description of the “patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had fulfilled and piled one above the other in the west dealing with window” (Chopin 66). These are pictures of happiness; the blue patches of sky reveal her new, delighted life peaking through the oppression of her marital relationship.

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

There would be no one to live for her during those coming years: she would live for herself. There would be no effective will bending hers in that blind determination with which men and women believe they have the right to enforce a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intent or a terrible intent made the act seem no less a criminal activity as she considered it because brief moment of illumination.(Chopin 67)

Mrs. Mallard, near the end of the story, is unquestionably free. She is shouting of flexibility, she is shuddering with flexibility, she has actually lastly been released from the chains of marriage– the constant battle in between caring a spouse or being contented with a partner. Mrs. Mallard “all of a sudden recognized her self-assertion as the strongest impulse of her being,” (Chopin 67). As Josephine kneels at the door, she hears Mrs. Mallard crying, little understanding it is not due to the fact that she is weeping for her partner, however due to the fact that she is enthralled with new-found freedom. This scene reiterates the social expectation that women are weak, over-excited, “nervous,” or overall a hysterical mess. On the contrary, Louisa is chanting “Free! Body and soul totally free!” (Chopin 68).

Toth states of Chopin, “Like many writers, Chopin utilized her stories to ask and solve questions– in her case, about marital relationship, motherhood, self-reliance, passion, life, and death. Where she seems to choose, she prefers solitude, nearly always in a favorable context” (Toth 24). In lieu with Toth, Chopin makes it clear that Mrs. Mallard is definitely delighting in her new-found solitude; there is absolutely nothing however hope and pleasure of her new life ahead of her. Josephine ultimately coaxes Louisa out of her research study and, when walking she’s down the stairs, Brently Mallard appears; Mrs. Louisa Mallard passes away immediately. The storyteller specifies “When the doctors came they stated she had actually died of heart problem– of delight that eliminates” (Chopin 68). This paradox in this declaration is clear to the audience: Mrs. Mallard did not die from happiness or joy of seeing her spouse alive, however from shock of her new-found freedom right away ripped from her grasp.

Gilman and Chopin’s stories explore concepts of female injustice that are still pertinent in today’s society. These authors use literary gadgets such as imagery, irony and meaning to reveal critiques on the convention of marriage, and the unfavorable impacts that this ritual can have on ladies. Chopin and Gilman show ways in which marriage and female injustice can result in madness; women need to work, to produce, to live and breathe to be effective and healthy. The critique on marriage is obvious to the audience through the authors’ diction and syntax within the narratives, and flourishes with the rich images, strong signs, and situational paradox.

Works Mentioned

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

Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology. 4th 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: 3 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: Medical Diagnosis and Discourse in “The Yellow Wallpaper” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 2nd ser. 3.1 (1984 ). p. 61-77. JSTOR. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

You Might Also Like