Women's Roles in The Yellow Wallpaper and The Withered Arm
In the late 19th century, women were expected to conform to the
conventions of society. This meant that they were expected to get
married young, pure and beautiful. They were treated like objects as
if men bought them. How the woman felt was irrelevant in this period.
Women were expected to produce an 'heir and a spare'. Women were also
victim to double standards. For example, women had to deal with a
child out of wedlock yet were given no responsibility for this.
This contrasts strongly to a woman's role in society today. However,
women are still expected to get married and give birth to a child.
I am going to explore this issue in two short stories; The Yellow
Wallpaper written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1892, and The
Withered Arm written by Thomas Hardy in 1887. The Yellow Wallpaper is
about a women suffering from postnatal depression that is given the
'rest cure'. She feels trapped and eventually goes mad. The Withered
Arm is about a milkmaid called Rhoda who had a child out of wedlock
and has been excluded from society. The man with whom she had the
child with gets married to a young girl who Rhoda resents and in a
dream disfigures her arm. The young bride tries to cure her arm by
touching a recently executed man who turns out to be Rhoda's son. The
shock kills the young bride and the husband sees the error of his ways
and soon dies himself.
In The Withered Arm, Hardy portrays how negative life was for women in
Victorian society. However, on the other hand, he clearly shows
sympathy for the plight of women which suggests he had a desire for
Hardy shows how the role of women in Victorian society was to get
married. If a woman did not get married, she was treated as though
there was something wrong with her and indeed was often ignored by
both men and women. Hardy uses a technique called sympathetic
background to show us this when he tells of how Rhoda sat apart from
the rest in the milking barn and lived on a lonely spot away from the
In The Yellow Wallpaper, Gilman also shows sympathy for the plight of
women. Like Hardy, she also uses the sympathetic background technique
when she illustrates the oppression of the speaker by John and by
This is illustrated clearly from the very beginning of the story where
the speaker says "But what is one to do?" This shows how she feels she
is being trapped and oppressed by society's expectations of her.
In The Withered Arm, I feel that Farmer Lodge genuinely believed that
he was doing nothing wrong be ignoring and looking down on Rhoda and
her son because he felt society expected him to do that, however other
people may believe that it was unfair that a woman was left in that
position. In The Yellow Wallpaper, I feel that John acted caringly
towards the speaker, whereas others may feel that John was over
In both stories, the female...