William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Charlotte Perkins Gilman"s "The Yellow Wallpaper" share main characters who enter the Gothic realm. Here are some ways in which they are alike:
- Both women live in the late nineteenth century
Both Emily and the narrator of Gilman's story are women in the Victorian period, a time when women had few rights. Their main purpose in life is to be married successfully and to raise children and direct domestic activities.
- Both women live under repressed conditions that confine them
Emily's father finds all her suitors unworthy; she lives under his patriarchal rule even after his death as she retains his corpse: "she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will." It is not until the authorities are about to come that Emily breaks down and allows her father to be buried.
The unnamed narrator of Gilman's story, who suffers from post-partum depression, is confined to bed in a room of barred windows with hideous yellow wallpaper. Her husband directs everything that goes on. The narrator records wrily in her journal, "He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction."
- Both attempt to defy the patriarchal oppression by giving expression to their suppressed rage
Emily defies convention by riding around town with Homer Barron, a Northerner and a laborer, two characteristics that would appall her father, and that upset those who see her as a part of the Old South.
The narrator of Gilman's story expresses her rage:
"I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I'm sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.
She records with parodic humor her observations of her confinement: "Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able--t dress and entertain, and order things."
- Both are delusionary and travel a turbulent inward journey
Gilman's narrator becomes fixated upon the "smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded" wallpaper. She follows the pattern which is not symmetrical, but eventually makes the transition into the unconscious world where she feels a woman is trapped behind the wallpaper.
Emily Grierson becomes sick after her father's death, and emerges into the public with shortened hair, riding in the "yellow-wheeled buggy" from the livery stable with Homer Barron. Then, Miss Emily asks for arsenic, and the townspeople assume she will kill herself because Homer has declared that he is not the marrying type. But, no one sees either Homer or Emily:
Then we knew that this was to be expected too; as if that quality of her father which had thwarted her woman's life so many times had been too virulent and too furious to die.
- Both find a grotesque solution to their frustrated existences
Emily's "front door closed upon the last one [art student] and remained closed for good." She falls ill and dies, "her gray head propped on a pillow yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight." In room upstairs "The man himself lay in the bed." On the second pillow is the indentation of a head and a "long strand of iron-gray hair."
The narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" frees the woman she perceives trapped in the wallpaper in a desperate gesture of self-assertion. She moves from the bed where she has lain helplessly to the floor where she crawls, much like Bertha Mason of Jane Eyre crawls about, exhibiting destructiveness:
"I've got out at last,...in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back."
Both Miss Emily and Jane in their respective stories are secluded in a large house. Miss Emily lives "in a grand house" which has been in her family for generations, and Jane is taken to "a summer house" in the country to recover from postpartum depression. Both houses serve to imprison their female residents rather than nurture them.
Miss Emily and Jane are both women of their times, dominated by the men in their lives. Miss Emily is a spinster because her father sent away all her suitors, considering them not good enough for his daughter. Jane is at the mercy of her husband, who is also the physician directing her care. Even though Jane does not always agree with what her husband dictates, she does not have the energy to oppose him.
Both Miss Emily and Jane show signs of mental illness before their final breakdowns. Miss Emily is out of touch with reality, insisting that the tax collectors consult with Colonel Sartoris, who has been dead for ten years. Jane is brought to the house in the country because of her symptoms of depression. She spends a lot of time crying, and does not have the energy to do anything.
Both Miss Emily and Jane have a sense of what is best for them, but their ideas are not in tune with the accepted thought of those around them, nor of society at large. Miss Emily strikes up a relationship with Homer Barron as a way to escape her loneliness, and the townspeople are scandalized at her behavior, and Homer himself rejects her. Jane longs to keep busy and write, believing that through these activities she might regain her mental health, but her husband is adamant that a "rest cure" is the answer. When Jane does not seem to be getting better, her husband threatens to send her away to another doctor whose medical philosophy is even more rigid than his own.
When Miss Emily and Jane descend into madness, their breakdowns are grisly and total. Miss Emily kills her lover and keeps his body with her in bed for years, and Jane is swallowed up by her vision of the woman in the wallpaper, to the point that she is oblivious to all else, even her husband.