Feminism and Freedom in The Yellow Wallpaper and The Story of an Hour
Around the turn of the 20th century, women were repressed by their own families and husbands which is pictured very well in the stories: “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story of an Hour.” “The Yellow Wallpaper” written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is the story of a woman who believes in and needs the opportunity for self-growth, to find herself, and her happiness outside of her house. Jane, as it is believed to be the name of the narrator, is having a hard time in her life as she is suffering with what is likely post-partum depression and has to be fully cured in order to get on with her life.
Jane supposedly has post-partum depression because the author herself suffered from it and she told her own story. In “The Story of an Hour” Kate Chopin tells the story of Louise, a woman who is seeking of her personal freedom. Louise suffers from a heart disease and she just got the sad news that her husband passed away and is in a battle within herself deciding if she should be sad, or really happy that she is free. Though both these characters and stories seem to be different at first, the themes, the setting, and the characters are more similar than they appear to be.
These short stories were written during a period when women were suppressed by men. Women were not allowed to vote, own property or even have an education. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Jane describes her husband John, as a man who has the ultimate authority in their house and also her doctor at the same time. He is a patriarch who doesn’t consider her needs and that was normal for the time as women were suppressed and prevented from any type of growth. Jane admits that she wants to escape that kind of life as she feels like she is in a prison.
She has no say in anything as she says that she is put in the yellow room without any say in it only because John thought that was good for her and that was going to make her better. However, he didn’t know that he was doing more damage than repairing and that is visible in her words: “John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him” (Gilman 174). He never talks to his wife and asks her what she really feels but does what he thinks is right for her. Similarly, in “The Story of an Hour” Louise Mallard was imprisoned inside of her house by Brently as she suffers from a heart disease and any news can damage her heart. This news is made clear at the beginning of the story where the news of her husband’s death is being delivered in the gentlest way possible.
Also, other facts show this imprisonment like the only people she would have interactions with were her sister and Richards or that when Brently entered the house he had to unlock it with the key. As seen, both these share the same theme of a suppressive marriage to women who search for personal freedom and can’t express themselves nor be independent. But at the end, they both experience the freedom. The moment when Louise was alone in her room and she finally realizes the truth she says “free, free, free!” (Chopin 97) and the for Jane was the moment when she confronts her husband and shouts “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane? And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back ” (Gilman 187). Both, Jane and Louise understand their strength and what they are capable of accomplishing. They understand that they can go on with their lives on their own, as strong and independent women.
A similarity that is evident when reading the story is that both women were incorrectly diagnosed. In “The Story of an Hour”, as mentioned before, Louise Mallard suffers from a heart disease and everybody is so gentle when telling her the news. But at the end, the moment that Brently enters the house she has a heart attack and dies. It wasn’t a “joy that kills” (Chopin 98) that killed her, it was that loss of joy. She got a glimpse of that new life, full of happiness and in the moment that it was taken away, it was disappointment and shock that killed her. As for Jane, she is diagnosed with hysteria, which was a term used to describe emotional disturbance and was thought to be very common for women at that time. Since she was diagnosed with hysteria, the best way to cure her was thought to be the rest cure. She didn’t need that.
Jane had depression and people not believing her on how she really felt was only drowning her more into that dark world and made her go crazy. She needed to interact with people, write, or go out and enjoy the outside world in order for her to get better. She was not going to get better by spending all her time isolated from everything with only her thoughts. Therefore, if these women had the right diagnosis and their relatives knew what was really bothering them, they wouldn’t be so vulnerable and have such an unhappy marriage. They would love their lives.
To continue, both these stories take place inside of a house. In ‘The Yellow Wallpaper”, the narrator is put in a room that suffocates her and thinks of it as a jail. She sees herself as a prisoner. There is something about the yellow color of the room that bothers her profoundly which is seen clearly in her description of the room: “The color is repellent, almost revolting, a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight”(Gilman 174). She wants to get out of that room, go to a different part of the house where she can feel calm and relaxed.
On the other hand, in “The Story of an Hour,” Louise goes in her room to process her husband’s death and clear her mind. It is that moment in her room when she fully understands that she is free from that marriage. In the room she understands what that death really meant: a better life on her own, by her own rules. Both of these protagonists found themselves in their bedroom and at the end they both came out of it fully understanding their power and liberty, “Free! Body and soul free” (Chopin 97). For Louise and Jane the setting is very important, a choice or not, as it makes them reconsider their lives and look for their missing piece which was their freedom.
As mentioned, both of these women were in their room when they found themselves. However, Louise went by her own will there to reflect on her life, differently from Jane who was put in there. After Mrs. Mallard hears the horrible news, she has the choice of going up to her room, sitting in her chair and looking out of her window. The outside world, the trees, the birds, the sky, the wind, make her realize the new life that she has ahead of her. The window is a clear representation of her new life, a new life where she would be as free as a bird. A new life where there was no more place for an oppressive marriage just time for herself and her desires: “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself” (Chopin 97). On the other hand, Jane was put in that bedroom for the only purpose of her getting better as her husband told her that, “He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get” (Gilman 173). It wasn’t a personal choice.
She was deprived from everything, all she did was sleep, walk a little bit, eat and sleep some more. Stuck in that room she had to find something to distract herself and that is when she started noticing those strange patterns and that woman behind the wallpaper. She started envisioning herself in her and tried to free the woman as she realized that she was so similar to her. Once she was free, she just wanted to get out of that suffocating room.
Another thing that makes these two stories viewed differently is that “The Yellow Wallpaper” is written in the first person. Jane, who is sick and mentally unstable, tells the story which makes it less reliable. She was sick meaning that she couldn’t think straight. She would describe everything that she considered bad. Perhaps her husband and his sister really tried to cure her and make her feel better and get her out of the state that she was in. Meanwhile, in “The Story of an Hour,” the story is told in the third person. We don’t know who the narrator is, but it surely is an outsider. We get to see more of the surroundings, a better perspective and it is more believable and more reliable.
In conclusion, “The Story of an Hour” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” share plenty of similarities from theme, setting or the character of the protagonist but with slight differences which are what make them unique in their own way. These stories were written during the same time, which was a time where women wanted rights and privileges. Both of the authors were activists in feminism and women rights so the best way for them to show what was really going on was putting life on paper.
January 28, 2023