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Can you compare the theme in "The Yellow Wallpaper" with the theme in "The Story of an...

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trang5891 | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted November 15, 2012 at 2:39 AM via iOS

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Can you compare the theme in "The Yellow Wallpaper" with the theme in "The Story of an Hour"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 19, 2012 at 8:23 AM (Answer #1)

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One common theme of Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" is that of female repression in the patriarchal society of the Victorian Age. For, in each narrative, the main character is a woman who is confined by the femme covert law in which the wife's property belongs to her husband, and she is subservient to him, as well.  Moreover, in each story this inflexible position in their confined social realm makes the female characters prisoners of their domestic sphere. As such, they suffer from what is called "a nervous condition" in Gilman's story and "a heart trouble" in Chopin's.

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the unnamed narrator expresses her frustration and repression as she points to her inability to be heard in her desire to go into the "delicious garden."  Furthermore, she hates the room her husband has chosen for her rest after childbirth, but when she objects, "John would not hear of it." In Chopin's story, on the other hand, the repression in Mrs. Mallard's life is, at first, only subtly suggested in her suffering from "a heart trouble"; however, in her subsequent actions after having learned of her husband's accidental death, Mrs. Mallard feels the release of the domestic restrictions placed upon her as she utters under her breath, "free, free, free!" 

Unfortunately, the freedom of Louise Mallard of "The Story of an Hour" is short-lived as her feelings of victory are crushed by the appearance of Brently Mallard in the foyer as she begins her descent from her room down the stairs. The very sight of her husband creates in Mrs. Mallard the realization that she must again return to the restrictions of the mores of her society, and the result is fatal:  Mrs. Mallard dies "of heart disease--of joy that kills"; the shock is too great for her.  Likewise, Gilman's  narrator finally "releases" the woman behind the hideous yellow wallpaper, freeing her, the alter-ego.  However, this act is the result of her hallucinations and mental illness:

I wonder if they [all those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!

I am getting angry enough to do something desperate....I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?

And, so, the narrator remains trapped; this time, however, she is trapped in her own insanity, an insanity produced from terrible restrictions put upon her artistic nature, just as Mrs. Mallard, too, has had cruel restrictions placed upon her spirit. Indeed, the matrimonial suppression of their sensitive natures has been the nemesis of both women. Clearly, it is repression which has destroyed the lives of the unnamed narrator and Mrs. Mallard.

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