What are some key similarities among the short stories "The Yellow Wallpaper," "The Story of an Hour," and "Hills like White Elephants"? (I have already discovered the feminist perspective)

1 Answer

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Besides the dominant commonality of the feminist theme, these three short stories do also share other aspects:

1. Characterization: In all three stories, although Jig's characterization is somewhat ambiguous, there is a focus upon what the female characters think and feel.

  • The unnamed narrator of Perkins's story has an inner reality that differs greatly from what really is because she feels compelled to trust the opinions of her husband and the doctor. Nevertheless, she does attempt to establish some self-expression: "But I must say what I feel and think in some way--it is such a relief!"  However, in her depressive state, she ls unable to rationally overcome her situation.
  • In Chopin's story Louise Mallard, upon learning of her husband's supposed death, mounts to her room and considers with relief that she will now have a life or freedom: 

She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her...'free,free, free!'

  •  Jig of Hemingway's story internalizes and senses her situation, perceiving the "operation" as a life-changing event, telling the American, "And once they take it away, you never get it back."

But, despite their internalizing, the three women, lacking fortitude, are unable to resolve their conflicts in a positive manner.

2. Setting plays a powerful role in the three stories.

  • In Gilman's story, the prison-like room with the unsymmetrical and repulsive wallpaper provides the impetus to drive the already shaky psyche of the narrator to insanity as she envisions herself as a woman trapped behind the "bars" imprinted in the wallpaper.
  • The foreign setting of Hemingway's story where the couple are really nowhere is certainly significant.  When the American goes around to gather the luggage, he disappears from Jig and "he looked up the tracks but could not see the train."
  • In Chopin's story, the staircase, her closed bedroom door and the open window parallel the internal feelings of Mrs. Mallard.

3. Symbolism is very significant in these stories.

  • The yellow wallpaper and all that seems to occur with it in the narrator's mind symbolize the conflicts of the narrator.
  • The hills that appear "like white elephants" are pregnant (pun intended) with meaning as a white elephant is something that a person cannot sell or be rid of as well as being symbolic of Jig's pregnancy.  In addition, the barren land surrounding them and the train tracks are symbolic of the rift in feeling and the psychological divide between Jig and the American.
  • The staircase is the path upward to the freedom of the open window where the sky is blue, birds sing, and hope abounds for Louise Mallard. She stands at the top of the staircase like "Victory" as she prepares to descend and begin her new life.