Comparison of Two Young Women Characters in Two Classic 19th Century Short Stories

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Women have traditionally been known as the less dominant sex. Through history women have fought for equal rights and freedom. They have been stereotyped as being housewives, and bearers and nurturers of the children. Only recently with the push of the Equal Rights Amendment have women had a strong hold on the workplace alongside men. Many interesting characters in literature are conceived from the tension women have faced with men. This tension is derived from men; society, in general; and within a woman herself. Two interesting short stories, “The Yellow Wall-paper and “The Story of an Hour, “ focus on a woman’s plight near the turn of the 19th century. This era is especially interesting because it is a time in modern society when women were still treated as second class citizens. The two main characters in these stories show similarities, but they are also remarkably different in the ways they deal with their problems and life in general. These two characters will be examined to note the commonalities and differences. Although the two characters are similar in some ways, it will be shown that the woman in the “The Story of an Hour” is a stronger character based on the two important criteria of rationality and freedom.

In “The Yellow Wall-paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the unnamed female protagonist is going through a rough time in her life. (For now on, this paper will refer to this unnamed character as the “the narrator in ‘Wall-paper,’” short for “The Yellow Wall-paper. The narrator is confined to room to a room with strange wall-paper. This odd wall-paper seems to symbolize the complexity and confusion in her life. In “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin, the protagonist, Mrs. Mallard must also deal with conflict as she must deal with the death of her spouse. At first there is grief, but then there is the recognition that she will be free. The institute of marriage ties the two heroines of these two short stories together. Like typical young women of the late 19th century, they were married, and during the course of their lives, they were expected to stay married. Unlike today where divorce is commonplace, marriage was a very holy bond and divorce was taboo. This tight bond of marriage caused tension in these two characters. Their personal freedom was severely restricted. For Mrs. Mallard, marriage was a nemesis to be reckoned with. She knew inside that her marriage was wrong, but she could not express her feelings openly. Her husband was not a bad man, but he was in the way. After hearing about her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard comments, “now there would be no powerful will bending her in that blind persistence with which men … believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature” (Chopin 72), Her husband definitely was a thorn in her back.

The narrator in ‘Wall-paper” faced similar circumstances. Her husband, John, was a physician and imposed his will on her. Because men usually were the working partner of the household, they held a higher status compared to their spouses. With their leverage, they dominated and made the rules of the household. John fits that description well. Because his wife is suffering from a nervous depression, John confines her to the house and more specifically to a room. John regulates every detail of her life and is a male nemesis like Mr. Mallard is. In the narrator’s words, “So I take phosphates, or phosphites- whichever it is - and tonics, and air and exercise… and am absolutely forbidden to ‘work’ until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas” (Gilman 160). This disagreement inevitably leads to fighting. Says John, “My darling, I beg of you, for my sake and for our child’s sake, as well as your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea (obsession with the wall-paper) enter your mind” (Gilman 167). Although the narrator in ‘Wallpaper’ fight, they try to work...
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