The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

The Story of an Hour book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What is the common theme in Chopin's "The Story of An Hour", Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

Expert Answers info

booboosmoosh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2003

write4,119 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The common theme in Chopin's "The Story of an Hour", Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" rests with the desire each woman has for personal freedom.

In "The Story of an Hour," Louise Mallard has an awakening when she learns of her husband's death. Though she tries to deny the knowledge, she soon is delighted that she is free to live her life as she chooses—something she had never thought of. She feels guilty for the sense of release she feels at her husband's death, but embraces her newfound freedom.

There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime...

In "A Rose for Emily," Emily has been controlled by her father—even in his refusal to let her date, believing no one was good enough for her. She has been governed by social expectations of the Deep South that demand constraints because of her gender. But when her father dies, she dates Homer Barron, with no concern for anyone else's opinion:

...we began to see [Homer Barron] and Miss Emily on Sunday afternoons driving […] the ladies all said, 'Of course a Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner, a day laborer.' […] [Emily] carried her head high enough--even when we believed that she was fallen. 

As an aside, "fallen" here refers to a loss of innocence.

Emily, free from her father's control, is able to do what she wants: having a scandalous relationship with a man, and (worse) with a Northerner!

In Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," the unnamed protagonist is suffering from postpartum depression (PPD, a post-natal depression) something unidentified at a time when women were seen as possessions, and frail creatures requiring control by fathers or husbands. Gilman experienced this herself. "Rest-cure" was the popular prescribed cure of the day... 

[It was comprised of] complete bed rest and limited intellectual activity. Gilman credited this experience with driving her ''near the borderline of utter mental ruin." 

Suffering from depression after giving birth, the narrator is separated from her child, given a room alone at the top of a rented house (for her recovery), and allowed no mental stimulation. In keeping a journal (which serves as the structural device by which she tells her story), she must hide it whenever anyone is around. Her mental break from reality is brought on by this enforced solitude. First we see her husband's oppression:

John is a physician, and perhaps--(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.

You see he does not believe I am sick!

As with male-dominated societies over hundreds of years, a woman's ill health was often attributed to hysteria (see etymology: hysterical).

By the end of the story, the narrator sees people trapped in the wallpaper, and has become one of these people herself.

A desire for personal freedom drives these three protagonists to unhealthy ends: Louise dies of a heart attack when she discovers her husband is not dead—and she is not free. Insane, Emily murders her lover, hides the body in a bedroom of her house for many years, and sleeps with the corpse. And the woman suffering from PPD loses her mind.

Additional Source:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Unlock This Answer Now