A Rose for Emily & the Yellow Wallpaper

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The protagonists in both “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner and in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman experience struggles within their society throughout their respective stories. Although the stories are very different, the struggles for each protagonist stem from the perception and expectations of women in society during the time each story was written. The protagonist in “The Yellow Wallpaper” struggles throughout the story due to her controlling husband and a woman’s role in society during this time. Her husband John is a physician and it is clear they are upper-middle class as they are able to afford a summer house and have help to cater to their needs. Even if the main character was not suffering from what her husband calls a nervous disorder, her main function would be to maintain a household and raise her children. Since she is deemed unable to do that due to her condition, she ends up being somewhat useless. In addition, during this time period, nervous disorders and similar mental illnesses were virtually unknown conditions. For these types of conditions, doctors often prescribed a ‘rest-cure’ method in order to ‘cure’ the ill woman. The rest-cure method required physical and creative inactivity and virtual isolation from society and the outside world. Since her husband is a ‘brilliant’ doctor who continuously tells her she is sick, the narrator complies with his every instruction and end up completely dominated by her husband. “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.” (Gilman, 1899, p.2) This story touches on several aspects of a woman’s struggle with society. There is the struggle against being an independent woman in society, a woman’s oppression within her own marriage, and how a woman is treated when suffering from a mental illness such as depression. Emily Grierson, the main character in “A Rose for Emily” also experiences struggles with society during her life. Emily is portrayed as a strong willed woman, but she falls victim to circumstance and the time period. Emily’s southern upbringing is a crucial reason to why Emily allows her father and other men to control her life and make decisions on her behalf. As a high-society, southern woman during this time, it was not uncommon for a father to dominate and control their daughters. Her role as a southern woman was to marry well and have a home and a family; however her father felt that no man was good enough for Emily. Upon her father’s death, Emily is left with nothing but the house in which she grew up. For the first time, Emily is left to make her own decisions and choices. Ultimately her inability to grow and change along with society and make decisions without a man’s influence proves to be her undoing. Jefferson, the town Emily lived in, begins to change with the times, but Emily clings to how she was raised. While the townspeople idolize Emily as a symbol of the past and southern tradition, she also becomes a hassle and a burden on the town by refusing to conform to the changes going on around her. Her inability to change, the constant town gossip, and her man troubles cause Emily to become a recluse. The plots of both short stories allow the reader to understand and sympathize with the struggles of both main characters. The plot begins to unfold almost immediately in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. It is clear after the first few paragraphs that the narrator is struggling to have control of her own life and her own medical condition. “Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do? I did write for awhile in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal – having to be too sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.” (Gilman, 1899, p.1) It’s clear that the narrator is not comfortable with this rest-cure treatment and the multitude of tonics and medications she is made to take daily. Throughout the story,...
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