What is the correlation between "The Souls of Black Folk" by WEB DuBois, and "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The thesis by W.E.B. DuBois, "The Souls of Black Folk" and the short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, share their theme as a common trait. Both works deal with the topic of oppression, albeit from different points of view, but they do expose the conflict of how people become oppressed by others.

The main argument in DuBois's story is that the black race should not just take the passive way in order to become respected and valued by society. Strongly against the policies of Booker T. Washington, DuBois is partial to a more active role, where black people can seek their equality by any means necessary and not just through

“…submission and silence as to civil and political rights.”

Gilman's story is about a fictional woman who is suffering from what seems to be post-partum depression. The time in history where the story takes place is one where these types of illnesses are merely considered "hysterics", and are not considered important enough. 

In a male-dominated society, the life of the main character in "The Yellow Wallpaper" is entirely dependent on her husband, as well as on the doctor who prescribes her isolated treatment. Meanwhile, her brain gets the best of her creating hallucinations connected to her current state of affairs: the notion that there is a woman trapped insider of the yellow wallpaper that covers her sad room, and who is fighting to become liberated. Clearly, the woman feels subjugated and trapped by the men who "call the shots" in all aspects of a woman's life. Like in WEB DuBois's argument, she too wishes that she could speak out and become free.

Although both works are entirely different in terms of genre, narrative style, author's purpose, and use of literary devices, the thematic element of both works bring them together: the struggle against humans oppressing each other, and the need to find a voice within adversity.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As noted above, both Du Bois and Gilman present arguments against oppression. Du Bois argues against the "old attitude of adjustment and submission" in a long factual exposition about racism published in 1903. Gilman argues against the oppression of women in her 1890 short story about a woman who goes crazy.

Both works cry out against racial and sexual hierarchy, which is the notion that there are certain classes of people, such as whites or males, who are inherently superior to others. Du Bois would like to end lower expectations for black achievement, and he argues that, like whites, blacks are not content to accept a subordinate lot as maids, porters, and farm workers. They are not "naturally" suited to these occupations because of their race. They are, in fact, fit for full equality with whites.

Likewise, Gilman's story argues against a social hierarchy that says a woman is happiest in her "proper" sphere. In the story, the protagonist is isolated from books and intellectual outlets with the idea that this will cure her of (what is likely) postpartum depression. It will, according to a white male doctor, "adjust" her to her "natural" role of motherhood. This does not work: the woman is simply driven mad.

Both works indicate why a dominant group should not unilaterally decide what is "right" for another group of people. Like "The Yellow Wallpaper," Du Bois's work also highlights how putting walls around a person as a result of an arbitrary idea can be destructive. He tells a story near the end of his work about a black man who is destroyed for daring to seek more education than is considered "fit" for a black. 

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The Souls of Black Folk

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