Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds” are both concerned with female identity. Similarities between the stories include other characters’ efforts to dominate and control the female protagonists, who try to resist such control. In each story, the protagonist is the first-person narrator. One features an adult woman who is a mother but is herself treated as a child, while the other has a girl as its protagonist.
There are far more differences than similarities, however. Beyond the protagonists’ ages, these differences include the protagonists’ relationships with the dominant person in their family and their success or failure in resisting, as well as the time and place in which the stories are set. Gilman focuses on gender, while Tan stresses generation and culture.
Gilman’s story is concerned with an adult woman; her race, ethnicity, and national origin remain unstated. The story apparently takes place around the turn of the twentieth century. The location is unspecified but is possibly in the American South, as the narrator calls the house where it takes place “a colonial mansion.” As the woman struggles to resist the control that her husband imposes on her, she is isolated from society in an upstairs room. Her struggles prove unsuccessful, and after experiencing severe hallucinations, she suffers a mental breakdown.
Tan’s story has a girl at its center. Although her age is unspecified, the events she narrates take place in elementary school. The child and her mother are Chinese American; the girl is born and raised in the United States, while her mother is an immigrant from China. The location is San Francisco, and the time period is the second half of the twentieth century. The mother’s domineering attitude includes cultural expectations of obedience from her daughter. Although Jing Mei tries to follow her mother’s direction in becoming a prodigy pianist, she realizes she is unsuited to the role. Jing Mei is shown maturing and gaining insights into her own identity, which will likely support her healthy development into an adult.