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Consider this quote by Elizabeth Cady Stanton: “How the little courtesies of life on...

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user100400 | Honors

Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:00 AM via web

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Consider this quote by Elizabeth Cady Stanton:

“How the little courtesies of life on the surface of society, deemed so important from man towards woman, fade into utter insignificance in view of the deeper tragedies in which she must play her part alone, where no human aid is possible.” 

In paragraph form, please discuss how this idea that women of the nineteenth century are forced to live in isolation from relationships, education, intellectual and social stimulation presents itself in “The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 26, 2013 at 3:51 PM (Answer #1)

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The courtesies in life that men give to women, as part of their roles as dutiful husbands to wives, become meaningless when we consider the obstacles women go through living in a man's world. And since women were (and to a lesser extent still are) misunderstood, not fully appreciated, and limited in what roles they might play in society, women must bear the burden of the obstacles alone. 

This is certainly the case in "The Yellow Wallpaper." John, the husband, treats the narrator like a child and makes all the decisions not just for the family but for the narrator herself. John believes that his wife should be kept away from anything stimulating (relationships and work). But even the narrator realizes that this limiting of what she can do, this imprisonment, is possibly what is making her condition worse: 

John is a physician, and perhaps--(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)--perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. 

"Perhaps," John's opposition to his wife doing anything stimulating is the reason she's feeling depressed in the first place. As it was expressed in the Stanton quote, the narrator must bear this burden secretly to herself. She pleads, in writing, that writing and other stimulating activities might make her feel better, but since she is stuck in the subservient role of woman/wife, she repeatedly concludes, "but what is one to do?" She can not get out of this role, so she must attempt to find stimulating activities (namely writing) in secret; bearing the burden alone. 

Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. 

But what is one to do? 

I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal--having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition. 

It is not the writing that exhausts her; it is the act of keeping it secret, the mental effort it takes to lead a kind of double life. In the context of this story, the narrator would have benefited from social activity and work. In the larger context of women's roles in the 19th century, had women been treated the same as men, their roles would have expanded. Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued for women's right to vote and for women to be recognized as individually independent as men. She argued that this would not only lead to better lives for women, but being so independent, women would be in positions to contribute more to society (and public life), and therefore this would benefit society as a whole. 

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