With regard to their personal relationships, what similarities and differences are there between the two women in "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "The Story of an Hour"?  

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both protagonists of "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "The Story of an Hour" are restricted by social customs of the Victorian Age in which they live.  More specifically, the femme covert laws have made these wives the virtual property of their husbands with no legal control over their earnings, children, or belongings. So repressed are Mrs. Mallard and the unnamed narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" that they are unable to conceive of life in any other perspective than that of their present situations without great constraints upon themselves.

While no details of Bentley Mallard are provided in Chopin's abbreviated narrative, it seems apparent that Louise Mallard has been greatly restricted in what she can do.  For, when she is told that her husband has been killed in a train wreck, she weeps "at once" and throws herself with "wild abandonment" in her sister's arms; then, alone, she "went away" to the privacy of her room where she waits for the realization of her release from patriarchy to strike her in her "suspension of intelligent thought."

When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips...."Free, free, free!"....Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.

Similarly, the narrator of Perkins's narrative, who suffers from postpartum depression, is also greatly restricted. Believing that she needs complete bed rest, her husband John agrees with Dr. Weir Mitchell's diagnosis that she must have strict bed rest with no diversions whatsoever despite the fact that she has artistic urgings to visit the garden or read.  Surreptitiously, however, she records in a journal her thoughts and conversations with John, her husband. And, unlike Mrs. Mallard's newfound freedom that results from the death of her husband, the woman of Perkins's story is still in a repressed state as she believes that she must comply with her husband,

He is very careful and loving, and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.... 

But, later, she feels that she must find freedom by releasing what she perceives as a woman behind the bars of the hideous yellow wallpaper. She writes,

This paper looks to me as if it knew what a vicious influence it had!....I know John would think it absurd. But I must say what I feel and think in some way--it is such a relief!

She tries to talk with her husband about what she imagines, but he  dismisses her ideas. Consequently, the narrator develops a psychosis, repulsed by the color of the paper and tormented by the image of a trapped woman. Finally, she feels compelled to free this woman, an alter-ego of herself. This act condemns her further to isolation and more treatment, a virtual death. Likewise, Louise Mallard, who has at last obtained freedom and happiness, opens her bedroom door only to discover that Bentley Mallard, her husband, has returned home unscathed. This "joy that kills" is the death of Mrs. Mallard, who suffers a fatal heart attack. Thus, both women die: Mrs. Mallard physically dies, and the narrator suffers the death of her artistic spirit, both victims of a repressive society.

Read the study guide:
The Yellow Wallpaper

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question