Compare and contrast the two different views of women's lives in Herland and "The Yellow Wallpaper."

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The view of women in the two stories are completely opposite, with one, Herland, being ideal and the other, "The Yellow Wallpaper," being nightmarish. However, what is truly interesting about this comparison is that it depicts two very similar situations with the gender roles reversed. In Herland, three men who have ventured into a Utopian all-female society are being held captive and submitted to education. Similarly, the protagonist of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is being held against her will. In this scenario, it is her husband who is holding her captive, attempting to rehabilitate her from an unnamed and presumably psychological breakdown that occurred after a pregnancy.

In both cases, the captives are being conditioned by the opposite gender to operate acceptably in the world that that gender governs. However, even with complete societal power as in the case of Herland, women are proven to be compassionate and understanding far beyond what should be expected of them. Even Van, who is a stranger in Herland, finds himself becoming charmed with this society over his own patriarchal one, having difficulty rationalizing concepts like war and enslavement after seeing a female utopia.

The woman in "The Yellow Wallpaper," on the other hand, is completely disillusioned by the world for which the patriarchy is attempting to mold her. She is allowed no kind of mental stimulation and is even unable to leave her room. Her captor is offering her no attempt to understand her point of view and, worse yet, is playing the part of her jailer under the guise of love. The woman's eventual breakdown is simply a product of realizing that she will never be free by appealing to the understanding of men, because men will never attempt to understand women as anything more than objects to be possessed. Indeed, the idea of possession accounts for the reason that women cannot be free in the patriarchal society of "The Yellow Wallpaper," and the reason that Herland's Terry could not exist in a matriarchal one.

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Both of these works by Charlotte Perkins Gilman focus on the lives of women. However ,"The Yellow Wallpaper" conveys a dystopian view of a female life while Herland conveys a utopian view.

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the main character has no freedom or independence and her life is completely dependent upon a man. Her husband confines her to one bedroom and declares her unwell after she gives birth. She is locked inside this one room, left to obsessing over the patterns in the yellow wallpaper because her mind is so incredibly bored. This view of women's lives is primarily a statement of how little freedom and respect women were given (in the 1900s) and the extremely negative repercussions of such a society, which results in the woman in the story going insane.

On the other hand, in Herland, the women experience the very opposite relationship to men—they are not dependent upon men at all. They have in fact formed their own community where men do not exist and thus their lives are not controlled or monitored in any way by men, or anyone else. They lead happy and balanced lives.

The two texts explore the opposite experiences of personal freedom in relation to a patriarchal society—that is, a society where men hold all power. In "The Yellow Wallpaper," patriarchal society controls the women's lives down to every detail, taking away all of their personal freedom entirely. In Herland, an imagined society outside the bounds of a patriarchal society, the women have personal freedom resulting in a fulfilled, intelligent, and practical lifestyle.

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The two texts present women in a completely contrasting way. In "Herland," for example, the author creates a female fantasy land where there are only women and where no men have existed for hundreds of years. As a result, the society in which they live is a utopia, free from crime and based on mutual cooperation. The three male visitors who find Herland are forced to reexamine their own assumptions of patriarchy and to consider how they associate being male with dominion and power over females. Note the following quote:

When we say men,manmanlymanhood, and all the other masculine-derivatives, we have in the background of our minds a huge vague crowded picture of the world and all its activities... And when we say women, we think female—the sex.

But to these women... the word woman called up all that big background, so far as they had gone in social development; and the word man meant to them only male—the sex.

There is a completely opposite view taken on gender in this world, and the men struggle to accept their own relationships as Terry, for example, feels that he is able to have mastery over his new partner, and cannot accept her as an autonomous equal, even going as far as trying to rape her to prove his dominion. 

If the women in "Herland" are liberated and powerful, this is the polar opposite of the narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper." Note the way that the narrator is confined to her bed by her husband, even though she desperately wants to get out and about. Consider also the following quote where the narrator dares to suggest that one reason she remains ill is her husband's advice:

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

The woman in this short story is oppressed and trapped by her husband, who believes, in his male arrogance, that it is he who knows what is best for his wife and not she. The position of the narrator is thus completely different from that of the women in "Herland." 

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