Oppression of Women in Chopin's Story of an Hour and Gilman's Yellow Wallpaper
"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin and "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman share the same view of the subordinate position of women in the late 1800's. Both stories demonstrate the devastating effects on the mind and body that result from an intelligent person living with and accepting the imposed will of another. This essay will attempt to make their themes apparent by examining a brief summery of their stories and relating them to their personal histories. It will reveal this theme further through analysis of setting, visual and conceptual symbolism, and by exploring the relationships between the characters in each story.
In the "Story of an Hour", we are told that Louise has a bad heart condition. A friend of the family has discovered that there was a bad accident at her husband?s job and he is on the deceased list. Louise?s sister carefully tells her this distressing news; however, instead of falling apart, Louise finds herself feeling as if she has a new lease on life because she will finally be able to live for herself. Suddenly, her husband walks in the door, and shocked, Louise drops dead of a heart attack. The physician says it was from "a joy that kills" (341-342).
In "The Yellow Wallpaper", the main character is attempting to heal from a nervous disorder. Her physician prescribes the "rest cure" which allows her to do nothing: no housekeeping, no writing, and no visiting with family or friends. She cannot even play with her baby. Her husband insists that she stay in a room upstairs and she eventually goes insane.
Both Chopin and Gilman borrow from real events in their lives when writing these stories. Kate Chopin?s mother lost her husband to a railroad accident at a young age and Kate lost her husband to illness at a young age as well. No doubt, she drew on the strength she gained from witnessing her mother?s self-sufficiency. She also drew on her own experiences of being able to do things for herself (Wyatt). Similarly, Gilman drew on a powerful event in her life. She suffered from a "severe and continuos nervous breakdown tending to melancholia" (Gilman). A famous physician prescribed the "rest cure" which she claims nearly drove her insane. She wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper" as a way of protesting his methods (Gilman).
The main setting of both stories occurs in a room; however, these two rooms have very contrasting atmospheres. In Chopin?s story the light and peaceful environment depicted by the author promotes the concept that Louise is beginning a new and wonderful life after being told of the death of her husband, releasing her from his imposing will. She sinks into a comfortable armchair facing an open window. The trees are "aquiver with new life," the smell of rain is in the air, and a woman is singing. On the other hand, "The Yellow Wallpaper" is set in a room that evokes the impression of imprisonment. There...