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Discuss the theme of marriage in "Bliss," "The Yellow Wallpaper," and "The Story of an...

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vernikaa | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted September 25, 2013 at 1:35 PM via iOS

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Discuss the theme of marriage in "Bliss," "The Yellow Wallpaper," and "The Story of an Hour." Talk in terms of feminism.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 25, 2013 at 6:08 PM (Answer #1)

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In "The Story of an Hour," Mrs. Mallard grieves significantly and immediately upon hearing of her husband's supposed death. It is a gut, emotional reaction. After reflecting upon the impact his death would have on her, she begins to realize that she would now enjoy a freedom that she did not enjoy in her life with her husband. 

There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. 

It isn't until Mrs. Mallard is truly free of the bonds of marriage that she realizes she will no longer be limited by her husband's will and the expectations of a wife in the 19th century, a role which often limited a woman to working in the home and obeying the husband. Mrs. Mallard's liberation at the news of the death of her husband is like a pardon from a kind of cultural or interpersonal prison in which the wife was subservient to the husband. 

Similarly, in "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator is treated by her husband as the weaker, inferior sex. She is mentally chastised any time she desires to do something active (such as writing) and she is treated like a child, often called "little girl" by her husband, John. Being confined to the room with the yellow wallpaper, the narrator has a physical (the room) as well as a mental prison (that being treated like a child, and therefore obeying the will of the husband). Eventually, she imagines a woman trying to escape from the wallpaper, a transference of her own feelings to escape (the same kind of escape Mrs. Mallard felt when she learned of her husband's alleged death). 

In "Bliss," Bertha is quite convinced that she is, and should be, truly happy with her marriage and her life in general. Bertha justifies to herself that their marriage is satisfying because they are "good pals" and despite the lack of passion in their relationship. Note that as the others are leaving the party, Bertha finally truly wants her husband in a passionate way: 

For the first time in her life Bertha Young desired her husband. 

Did Bertha marry Harry because he made a good living, because it was customary for a woman at her age (then) to get married, and/or because it was a "good fit?" Who's to say, but it seems pretty clear that Bertha was convincing herself that she had a good marriage, despite a lack of passion. Her life is comfortable with well-to-do yet snobby friends/acquaintances. Like Mrs. Mallard, Bertha realizes that things have not been as perfect - when she sees evidence of adultery between her husband and Mrs. Fulton. Gazing at the pearl tree in its stillness, she is left wondering what will happen now that she knows things are not so perfect. Her new-found passion for her husband has just been doused by his infidelity. She is left feeling, like the narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Mrs. Mallard, stuck. And this feeling of being stuck has much to do with marriage the roles associated with men and women, especially during the time these stories were written (late 19th - early 20th century). 

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