What are the common themes, with examples, in the stories "A Rose for Emily," "The Yellow Wallpaper," and the poem "Daddy"?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The primary common theme in the stories "A Rose for Emily", by William Faulkner, "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and the poem "Daddy", by Sylvia Plath, is the feeling of oppression under male domination.

In "A Rose for Emily", the eponymous main character has been stunted for life due to the oppressive influence of a father who overprotected her and isolated her from common society. He thought she was better than her peers. The result of this failed social experiment was that Emily grew up awkward, anti-social, and sociopathic. She eventually loses her mind and kills the man that she loves, a drifter named Homer Barron, for fear of rejection. She lives with his dead body in her room until the day that she dies. However, her insanity was expected, and everyone knew that it would be caused by the bad effects of her father.  

We had long thought of them as a tableau, Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip [...]When her father died[..]in a way, people were glad...

In "The Yellow Wallpaper", the oppressed woman is a wife and new mother who is apparently going through a bout of post-partum depression. In her particular, male-dominated world, the males decide treatment for all conditions, even those which affect women only. Not having any other alternative but to submit, our nameless main character is made to go through her ordeal in total isolation and with no support systems. She was even asked not to engage in any journal writing! With all this, the woman, like Emily, implodes and loses her mental stability. She has a meltdown and believes that there is a woman, also trapped, beneath the yellow wallpaper...a woman that she wants to save.

She feels oppression because, despite of her obvious issue, she is being downplayed by the husband. He finds nothing to worry about in her case. Perhaps, he even makes her feel useless. We know that she does feel like a burden; female issues are just not important enough in the world in which she lives.

John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him. Of course it is only nervousness. It does weigh on me so not to do my duty in any way. I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already!

"Daddy" by Sylvia Plath is also about oppression, about males dominating, and about suppressed angst caused by this situation. Plath openly criticizes her father's brash attitude: How he makes her feel subhuman, and like a second class citizen. She is harsh in her argument. She is upset enough to bring up descriptors such as "Nazi" and "brute".

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.   
Every woman adores a Fascist,  
The boot in the face, the brute   
Brute heart of a brute like you.
A secondary theme that stems from the primary ones is the seeking and expecting of something better. All of these women depended on the men who failed them. They all may have even loved these men. For sure, they expected the men to love them back; to give as much as the women were
willing to give. Not all the men in these works fail on purpose; some do it because women are not meant to be too significant in the first place. Therefore, even though the females in these stories and in the poem feel that
there should be a balance in gender expectations, such balance clearly does not exist.
Other sub-themes, such as the isolation that the women feel, deception, sadness, disappointment, social rejection and feelings of gender inadequacy are also evident in the examples provided and in the stories per se.
Read the study guide:
The Yellow Wallpaper

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