“I’ve Got Out at Last”: The Comparison of the Individual vs. Society Theme in Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Willa Cather’s “Paul’s Case”
Feburary 16, 2012
There comes a time in certain individuals’ lives where they feel it is necessary to fight for what they believe in. Many a time, this decision puts them at a crossroads with the preconceived expectations of society and their own ideals. Failure to conform and fit in with the majority results in a moral battle of individual vs. society. Motives for what drives the individual vary but the result usually consists of tragedy. “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “Paul’s Case” (1905) by Willa Sibert Cather both highlight social issues, of the late-19th and early-20th centuries respectively, by playing with the theme of individual vs. society. Their main characters both share the same struggle and are related with similar tactics taken towards the development of theme. Nevertheless, there is evidence of different approaches taken towards illustrating theme when comparing both authors in detail. The specific elements used by each author to demonstrate theme, either alike or differential, can be found in the emphasis of an underlying problem with their main characters, prevalent gender stereotyping, and the inevitable result from the constant struggle with society. Both authors begin to develop the theme of individual vs. society with a specific importance on the problems observed in their main characters. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Jane is diagnosed with a temporary nervous depression that has resulted from the stresses of writing and childbirth. Jane is skeptical of the condition that her husband determined. An example to support this is when Jane says she has “a slight hysterical tendency” (Gilman 297). Jane is down-playing the seriousness of her “condition”...
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