Yellow Wall Paper

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Ahlam Abdul-Rahman

The Theme Of Oppression in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Sweat”

This paper compares the theme of oppression found in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston. Both the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Delia are products of male influence, most of the time being negative ones. What is interesting is that in both stories it is hard to determine their true emotions towards their husbands, because “love and hate continuously go back and forth between them” (thematic analysis of “sweat” article myriad.) They seem to want to love the men who dominate them yet, are able to disregard their emotions and set themselves free from oppression.

In “Sweat”, the reader is first introduced to hard working Delia, the protagonist of the story. Delia’s devotion to her household responsibilities is deeply captured through her positive attitude towards completing her work as a washerwoman, who has the habit of getting a head start in her work every Sunday. Delia is constantly oppressed by internal and external forces that seem to be out of her reach. Sykes, Delia’s husband is the most overpowering and dominant figure she has to deal with. Sykes spends all of her money by wandering off with a woman named Bertha while she “sweats” in order to support herself and her husband. Sykes sparks the fire or triggers Delia’s extreme anger by bringing a snake home although he knew that she was afraid of snakes. At this point, Delia can no longer hold in her fury and anger towards him. Delia says “ Ah hates you tuh de same degree dat ah uster love yuh” (Hurston --.) Delia remembers her sincere emotions towards Sykes when they were first married and the steps that she took to achieve her dream of maintaining a nice home and pleasant life. It is at this point in which Delia seems to take the step into asserting her own identity by becoming more aware and“awakens” to the reality of their marriage. The narrator mentions that Sykes had constantly abused Delia both physically and verbally throughout their marriage. "Two months after the wedding, he had given her the first brutal beating. She had the memory of his numerous trips to Orlando with all of his wages when he returned to her penniless, even before the first year had passed…Two late now to hope for love, even if it were not Bertha it would be someone else…Too late for everything except her little home." (Hurston 351 reference: http://www.enotes.com/sweat/q-and-a/what-has-delia-sykes-marriage-been-like-what-47389) This quote validates the readers’ assumption of Delia being oppressed by Sykes both physically and verbally. An example of his physical abuse is when he slithers a bullwhip across Delia’s shoulders, leaving her terrified to think that it was a snake. “Just then something long, round, limp and black fell upon her shoulders and slithered to the floor beside her. A great terror took hold of her. It softened her knees and dried her mouth so that for a full minute she could not cry out or move.” (Hurston 349). Symbolically, “the bullwhip represents Sykes’s dominance over Delia. It seems that Sykes is whipping Delia into submitting to him and yielding complete control over her” (Literary contexts in Short stories: Zora Neale Hurston’s Sweat-Library Reference Center.) Therefore, Delia’s “love” for Sykes should no longer be an excuse for her to tolerate the torment she lives in. Luckily, towards the end of the story, these dreams, emotions, and thoughts no longer have meaning. They all seem to fade away causing Delia to watch her husband die without having pity for him.

“The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman gives us a synopsis of how women were treated in the 19th century. Gilman defines the gender role situation in the late 1800s, through the perspective of male dominance in marriage. “Typical during the time, the story presents the relationship between male dominance through female...
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