Characterization of Women in The Yellow Wallpaper and Desiree's Baby
There was a time (not so long ago) when a man's superiority and authority wasn't a question, but an accepted truth. In the two short stories, "Desiree's Baby", and "The Yellow Wallpaper", women are portrayed as weak creatures of vanity with shallow or absent personalities, who are dependent on men for their livelihood, and even their sanity. Without men, these women were absolutely helpless and useless. Their very existence hinged on absolute and unquestioning submission…alone, a woman is nothing.
The setting of both stories reinforces the notion of women's dependence on men. The late 1800's were a turbulent time for women's roles. The turn of the century brought about revolution, fueled by the energy and freedom of a new horizon…but it was still just around the bend. In this era, during which both short stories were published, members of the weaker sex were blatantly disregarded as individuals, who had minds that could think, and reason, and form valid opinions.
Also, in both tales, the characters are removed from society. In "Desiree's Baby", the plantation is bordered by a field and a bayou, isolating its inhabitants from the world. The narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" tells us, "Out of one window I can see a garden…out of another I get a lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf" (161). They are out in the country, where the modern city can't touch them, or begin to mold their sexist ways and old fashioned ideals into contemporary mindsets. This seclusion also ensures that no outside forces threaten the men's absolute and total control of their weak, defenseless charges.
In addition to their surroundings, the homes themselves in the stories are ominous and forbidding, reflective of the oppressive male characters. Desiree's home "was a sad looking place, for which many years had not known the gentle presence of a mistress…The roof came down steep and black like a cowl…big solemn oaks grew close to it, and their thick-leafed, far-reaching branches shadowed it like a pall" (141). John's wife describes their summer retreat as a "Colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house…The windows are barred" (158-161). Both dwellings are clearly symbolic of the dark, stifling circumstances surrounding a woman of the times. In fact, the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" eventually perceives the very room she is in as a prison. When speaking of the paper she says, "By moonlight it becomes bars" (164) it is clear that she feels trapped.
Characterization also plays a major role in conveying the sexist and generally inferior manner in which women were treated and perceived. The men are condescending and unemotional. At first, Aubingy is described as passionately loving his Desiree…"That was how the Aubingy's fell in love, as if struck by a pistol shot" (141). However, upon finding that his baby is not the Aryan bundle of joy he'd...