What do the stories "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and "Death In The Woods" by Sherwood Anderson have in common?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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"The Yellow Wallpaper" and "Death in the Woods" have two themes in common albeit approached from two different perspectives. In "The Yellow Wallpaper" the theme of the role of woman is explored as it relate to an upper class woman of the Victorian period. While the heroine and first person narrator doesn't need to labor arduously, she is nonetheless confined by what the men in her life require and think of her. Specifically, she is confined to rest and given a terrible room with terrible wallpaper despite her protests against the location and aesthetics of both. She is prohibited from choosing her own pastimes and activities and forbidden to visit those whom she wishes to see. In the end, she ironically escapes the restrictions by circling the room--the wallpaper of which she has shredded--on her hands and knees, crawling over her shocked and unconscious husband in the process.

In "Death in the Woods," the heroine is a poor working class woman who labors to put food on the table and feed her husband and family, a significant symbol in the story. Arduous work is part of that which confines her. She is free only to labor in ways expected and prescribed by her marriage. Thus she has no opportunity to truly think or act on her own behalf. The result of this is her frozen body, old before its time, lying in the cold winter forest.

The second shared theme is that of truth and fiction, again approached from different perspectives. In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the heroine develops extensive mental illness borne of circumstances that led her to beginning to mix truth with fiction. Soon the fiction overtook truth and she ardently liberated strangling old ladies from the wallpaper.

In "Death in the Woods," the narrator discovers the old woman's body in the frozen forest and years later, from bits of talk picked up and enlightening personal experience, he blends truth with fiction to build a story to stand as a tribute to the life of suffering and confinement led by the woman frozen in the forest. In regard to this theme, the blending of truth and fiction has two opposed results, one harmful and one helpful, though it may be said that in both cases this blending led to escape from the confinement of the women's roles.

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