Compare and contrast the way the female characters are presented in Kate Chopin's "A Pair of Silk Stockings" and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper."
Both Chopin and Gilman present their female protagonists as victims of a male-dominated, patriarchal society that severely curtails women's freedom and limits women to traditional gender roles. These stories were written during the late 19th century, a time when female writers like Chopin and Gilman were tapping into an emerging feminist consciousness among women in the U.S. At this time, women were getting fed up with having no identity outside of marriage and motherhood and were frustrated by their lack of a political voice. Chopin's and Gilman's female protagonists struggle to assert their independence and dictate the course of their own lives within this patriarchal social structure.
Depending on the reader's interpretation of both stories, the female protagonist (and narrator) of "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Mrs. Sommers in "A Pair of Silk Stockings" are either successful or fail disastrously at gaining independence from the societal contraints placed on them. For example, the narrator's descent into insanity in "The Yellow Wallpaper" can be interpreted as a woman finally being defeated by her doctor husband's mental and physical oppression of her. On the other hand, the narrator's madness can be interpreted as a triumph over her husband's control, as the narrator's mental break allows her to gain insight about her oppression. Further still, the narrator's husband collapses upon witnessing his wife's insanity at the end of the story. In this moment, Gilman shows the shortcomings of patriarchal society, as the doctor husband's supposedly superior knowledge and prescribed "rest cure" have failed his wife.
Similarly, Mrs. Sommers in "A Pair of Silk Stockings" can be viewed as triumphant, as she finally decides to buy things for herself rather than constantly sacrificing her own needs to those of her children. At the beginning of the story, the third-person limited narrator relays to the reader that the widowed Mrs. Sommers has spent so much time pinching pennies to benefit her children while completely ignoring herself, which a respectable woman was expected to do at that time. By indulging her own desires, if even for a day, Mrs. Sommers resists the constraints society has placed on her. However, Chopin also critiques Mrs. Sommers's self-indulgence and her wild impracticality with the little bit of extra money she has managed to save. Chopin implies that Mrs. Sommers's self-indulgence is ultimately not the right solution to patriarchal oppression; rather, Chopin suggests that the answer is finding a balance between being a giving, caring mother and carving out an identity as a woman with desires beyond motherhood.