The main characters of both Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" find themselves in worlds which are so repressive that they become unbearable.
- Both women are strongly subjected to patriarchal rule and not allowed their own thoughts.
Emily Grierson has spent a lifetime in her father's house, where his portrait in a gilt frame sits firmly before the fireplace. Cloistered by her father in her youth, Emily has seen the suitors of her youth depart because her father felt that "none of them were quite good enough to Miss Emily and such"; yet, after he dies, she wears her father's gold watch and remains in the house, ever under the shadow of his patriarchy.
Similarly, Gilman's protagonist is also restricted in her life, sujugated to her husband under the feme covert laws and defining herself in his terms, as does Emily. She constantly refers to what John tells her, what John does and does not want her to do. Like Emily, the narrator's self-identity is repressed by the patriarch as her portrayal of herself is defined by her physician husband John,
John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in a man...You see, he does not believe I am sick!....My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing.
Completely repressed by these feme covert laws, the narrator states that she feels guilty that she is not grateful enough to her husband,
I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more.
And, without consulting her, John moves her to the nursery upstairs in the house they have taken for her "rest" for what the doctors call "a nervous condition" which is actually post-partum depression.
- Because of their repression, both women's inner realities become distorted
After the death of her father, Emily Grierson tells the town officials that he is not dead until they take the body after three days when she finally breaks down. The townspeople, who narrate, comment,
We did not say she was crazy then....We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.
Years later when Emily is seen riding with Homer Barron a transient from the North who has come with a work crew, Emily yet holds up her head, for as the narrators remark, "It was as if she demanded the recognition of her dignity" from the past when the Old South was grand. Clearly, Emily lives in a delusional world. Her need for this recognition becomes grotesque in its final manifestion as the townspeople discover the body of Homer in Emily's bed.
In like fashion, Gilman's narrator begins to perceive her situation in unrealistic terms which later develop into the bizarre. So tortured by the "atrocious nursery" and not being able to go into the garden, she projects her repression into a delusion that there is a woman trapped behind the hideous yellow wallpaper lacking any symmetry. She imagines a woman creeping behind the pattern to get free while she wishes John would take her away from the room where she is confined. But, finnally, she sees John looking at the wallpaper, and is upset because she does not want anyone "to get that woman out at night but myself." Later, the protagonist becomes this woman behind the hideous patterns and sees others: "I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?"