Compare and contrast the way the female charachters are presented in Kate Chopin's "Desiree's Baby" and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper."

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is a frightening modern relevance to Kate Chopin's "Desiree's Baby" and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper": Both these short stories point to the power that people can wield over others when they control the perception of reality, a power that is evinced in contemporary society, as well, on a larger scale as politicos interpret events and conditions and the mainstream media report what is in compliance with this contemporary wisdom.

Both Desiree and the wife/mother of Gilman's story are held as psychological hostages in the houses in which they dwell. In Desiree's situation it is sociological circumstances which limit, define. and destroy her--

...a strange, an awful change in her husband's manner [occurred], which she dared not ask him to explain. When he spoke to her, it was with averted eyes, from which the old love-light seemed to have gone out.

One day she holds their baby and begs her husband to look at him. "Tell me what it means!" she cried despairingly.

"...the child is not white; it means that you are not white,"

Armand replies coldly. And, when she denies it, showing him her hand that is lighter than his, her husband refutes this evidence by pointing out that the mulatto slave's hand is as white. So, without proof of her parentage, Desiree becomes convinced of this perception, and she is emotionally and sociologically destroyed. She wanders mindlessly out and 

[S]he disappeared among the reeds and willows that grew thick along the banks of the deep, sluggish bayou; and she did not come back again.

Similarly, for Gilman's narrator reality is distorted, although for her it is more a psychological distortion that is created than a sociological one. Having been commanded to never speak of her mental condition, she becomes somewhat paranoic:

I have found out another funny thing, but I shan't tell this time!  It does not do to trust people too much.

Further, having been denied the aesthetic enjoyment of walking in the garden or of having books or writing materials, as well as having been prohibited from moving to another room or changing the horribly unsymmetrical wallpaper, Gilman's woman becomes delusionary, imagining a woman trying to escape from behind the bars of the hideous yellow wallpaper in the stark room in which she is confined. She tells her husband,

"I've got out at spite of you and Jane.  And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back."

From the mental stress imposed upon her by her husband and Dr. Weir Mitchell, who both distort the reality of her condition of postpartum depression, Gilman's woman loses her mind and begins to tear the paper in order to free herself as the perception of the imprisoned woman. And. then. she crawls along the floor, stepping over the body of her husband who has fainted after he has unlocked the door and witnessed her activities.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The female characters in both Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Kate Chopin's "Desiree's Baby" both fall to the power of the dominate male in her life. For both women, the man in her life proves to be far more powerful over her life than she is.

In regards to Gilman's unnamed narrator, he husband has decided to lock her up in a bedroom. While there, she slowly goes utterly insane. Although suffering from a mental illness (assumed to be postpartum depression), her isolation from others proves to be far to detrimental to her mental health. Instead of her husband embracing her, he alienates her completely.Likewise, Armand (Desiree's husband) alienates his wife as well. Far from being accused of possessing a mental disorder, Desiree is alienated for no fault of her own. Armand exiles his wife for being black (which she is not--he is). Although both men alienate their wives, each do so for a different reason. 

Both woman seem to be strong in the opening of the story. Unfortunately, by the end of each story, both women have lost everything--one by no fault of her own. 

Read the study guide:
The Yellow Wallpaper

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