When studying patterns and trends in society, some sociologists refer to the unequal distribution of property, power, and prestige around the world as social stratification. This stratification forms the basis of the divisions of society and categorizations of people. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path,” Gilman and Welty both explore the implications of a stratified society divided on gender and race, respectively, on their protagonist’s psyches.
Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) was an aspiring artist who attended the Rhode Island School of Design. After the birth of her child, she fell into a deep, long-drawn depression. Her medical treatment, S. Weir Mitchell’s “rest cure,” which involved a period of continuous bed rest, not only failed to cure Gilman, but instead angered her. As someone who psychologically deteriorated under S. Weir Mitchell’s “resting cure,” Gilman unsurprisingly structured her story as an attack on this ineffective and brutal course of treatment. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman illustrates the way an already anxious, agitated mind can deteriorate and begin to prey on itself when forced into inactivity and deprived of the benefits of structure, work and a productive lifestyle.
In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman recounts, by means of Jane’s journal, the story of Jane and her husband John, following the birth of their baby. Like Gilman, Jane suffers from post-partum depression, and, her husband, who is a physician, locks her in the nursery on the top floor of their summer home. After the first few weeks of her summer in isolation, Jane hides her journal, which contains her true thoughts, so that John will be unaware of her feelings She continues to long for more stimulating company and activity, and complains about John’s patronizing, controlling ways. Jane then begins to focus on the yellow wallpaper in her room. She sees a woman hidden beneath the pattern, who appears that she wants to escape. By the novella’s end, Jane rips down the wallpaper enabling the woman “to escape,” which symbolically suggests that she and the woman inside the wallpaper have united and become free from the restraints and shackles of the patriarchal society, which limited them.
Gilman lived at a time period termed by sociologists as a patriarchal culture, a time when women were misunderstood and perceived as inferior to men. Consequently, society, including her husband, shunned her and did not provide her with a proper cure for her depression. As Carole Pateman, a British feminist and professor of political science at University of California, Los Angeles, stated, “The patriarchal construction of the difference between masculinity and femininity is the political difference between freedom and subjection.” At the present time, psychologists believe that women need to socialize and express their sentiments about their troubled...