Compare and contrast the theme in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker AND "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Reviewing the's summaries and themes pages, you can get a deeper understanding of each story.

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," themes are "the role of women" and "mental illness."

In this story the narrator's life is controlled by her husband and [male] doctor.  Neither man allows that the narrator, being a woman, could possibly know what is best for her.  Jenny, her sister-in-law, is there to provide support and care for the narrator, but only as it meets with the approval of the narrator's husband, Jenny's brother.

Both men also believe that they know what is best for the narrator who is suffering from post-partum depression (which is a documented form of mental illness) after the birth of her child.  At the doctor's advice, and her husband's insistence, the narrator is closed off from the world, including her baby. She is allowed no interaction or distractions outside of the house; even as she exhibits signs of someone in terrible psychological trouble, her husband does not take her seriously.  This controlled environment feeds her mental illness until she is overcome by it, finding herself trapped "behind" the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom.

In "Everyday Use," the themes are "heritage,""materialism," and "community vs. isolation."  The two sisters in the story are very different.

In terms of "heritage," Dee is a part of the world at large, influenced by many new experiences and people, as she has moved away from home--to the point that she has disconnected herself from her family's roots.  Maggie, on the other hand, has stayed close to home and in touch with the family of which she is a part, past and present.

"Materialism" is seen with Dee.  Dee has decided that she wants family heirlooms because she says they will make a statement about where she comes from, but it's more because they will look good; they won't keep Dee connected to her roots.  For Dee, it's all about "having."

Dee has lost her connection to the people who have created the life she now enjoys.  In her move to join life in the big city, while there are more people, she is more isolated.  She has relinquished the name she was given at birth for "Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo."  Her belief is that she cannot "wear" a name given to her by the people who "oppress her." This change further isolates her from family and her past.  (This incident also shows that she is materialistic in that she wants heirlooms, but not in order to connect with her past; in her mind, the past has given her nothing she wants.)  Maggie, on the other hand, is still connected to her roots.  When her sister comes home, Dee wants family quilts that have been passed down through generations or made by her mother to make a statement about who she is, but "who she is" now has no connection to her past.

Maggie shows that her connection to the quilts is based on her link to the past, but she is willing to let them go to Dee because even though the quilts would bring her closer to her family's heritage, she is still connected without the need of material things.  Having a relationship with the lives of the people who have come before her is immensely important to Maggie.

[The only similarity I see between the two stories is that in each story there is a woman who needs a connection to the world she lives in (the narrator and Maggie), and that isolation drives each woman who does not have--or is not allowed to have--it, to unhappiness and a place of loss (the narrator and Dee).]