Throughout the world, every culture has expected gender roles for women to adhere to. These gender roles are also present in literature including A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. However, the lead female characters in both of these works, Nora and the unnamed narrator, challenge the gender roles of their cultures in their respective stories. In A Doll’s House, Nora forges a signature to help save her dying husband’s life, while the unnamed narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” rips down wallpaper that symbolizes her emotional confinement.
Women of the mid-19th century had no such choices. Most lived in a state little better than slavery. They had to obey men, because in most cases men held all the resources and women had no independent means of subsistence. A wealthy widow or spinster was a lucky exception. A woman who remained single would attract social disapproval and pity. She could not have children or cohabit with a man: the social penalties were simply too high. Nor could she follow a profession, since they were all closed to women. Most women had little choice but to marry and upon doing so everything they owned, inherited and earned automatically belonged to their husband. This meant that if an offence or a felony was committed against her, only her husband could prosecute. Furthermore, rights to the woman personally - that is, access to her body - were his. Not only was this assured by law, but the woman herself agreed to it verbally: written into the marriage ceremony was a vow to obey her husband, which every woman had to swear before God as well as earthly witnesses. Not until the late 20th century did women obtain the right to omit that promise from their wedding vows.
The Victorian era’s views on marriage and the control males have on their spouses are represented through the yellow wallpaper itself, and the iron bars inside the nursery. The narrator expresses her displeasure with...
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