Looking at Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Kate Chopin's "The Storm," what do these stories tell us about the position of women in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? What differences do we see between the characters of these stories and the position of women in America of 2015?
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As portrayed in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Kate Chopin's "The Storm," one major difference between upper-class women and lower or middle working-class women is freedom.
As we see in "The Yellow Wallpaper," the protagonist is not given the freedom to do what she thinks is best to help herself out of her illness; instead, she is forced by her husband to do what he thinks is best as a professional medical doctor, a doctor who doesn't actually believe her when she says she's ill. As a result, she is virtually imprisoned in the room he thinks is best for her, even though the ugly yellow wallpaper is driving her to distraction. She is even forbidden to work even though she thinks it will help her out of her state. We get a strong sense of her imprisonment at the beginning of the story in passages when the narrator states things, such as, "... So I take phosphates or phosphites--whichever it is and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to 'work' until I am well again."
In great contrast, the heroine Calixta in "The Storm" has a great deal of personal freedom. While her husband and son are out shopping, she has personal freedom at home to do the work she wants to do and to receive whatever guests she wants to receive. For example, her husband is so respectful of her work, knowing that she is a devoted housekeeper, that after he and his son walk back home through the mud once the storm is over, they stop at the well outside of the house to rid themselves of mud before entering the house. We also see evidence of her freedom to accept any guest she pleases to accept when Alcee Laballiere enters her gate to seek shelter from the sudden and severe storm. We see that she is at perfect liberty to invite him in, even though they are ex-lovers, which of course leads to rekindling their romantic tryst. More importantly, author Chopin gives the protagonist utmost moral freedom to act as she pleases. In other words, Chopin does not rebuke Calixta in any way for her adulterous affair by including negative consequences for Calixta's actions. Instead, both Calixta and Alcee continue being happily married to their spouses, while continuing their adulterous affair. In fact, it can be argued that Calixta becomes even happier in her marriage because she has found a way to freely fulfill her own sexual expression. Since Chopin does not rebuke Calixta for her adulterous affair, it can be said that Chopin is liberating her character from moral restraints of society, allowing her character to freely express herself sexually.
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