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)

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Additional similarities, aside from the awesome previous answer, involve 2 themes that are entirely related to womanhood and the way females are perceived: a) women as dependents of males and, b) woman issues as signs of weakness.

Women as dependents of males.

All three females in the three stories are seen as inferior compared to their male partners, and they are also perceived to be entirely dependent on them.

In "A Doll's House," Nora is seen by her husband as a "squirrel," a "little spendthrift" and a "lark," denoting that he perceives her to be a "doll," or a "play thing;" she is objectified. She is expected to tend to her family, entertain her husband, and be obedient. Even her friend, Christine Linde, hints at the charade that Nora is conducting when she "acts" in front of her husband as a weak and clueless woman. All of this is done because of the expectation that women are to depend on males.

In "The Story of an Hour," everyone assumes that Mrs. Mallard will suffer extremely as a result of the death of her husband. Her heart condition makes them think that she is "weak" and that the need for her husband will prove to be too much for her. Little do they know that she is ecstatic to be free from the trappings of married life. She is so happy that, when it is discovered that Mr. Mallard is alive after all, she drops dead. To add insult to the injury, people erroneously assumed that it was joy that killed her: "joy that kills."

In "Hills Like White Elephants" Jig is pregnant and dependent on the American man who is accompanying her on a trip around Spain. A decision has to be made about her getting an abortion. The decision was ultimately hers but motivated completely by the man's thoughts about the issue:

[American man] We'll be fine afterwards, just like we were before.

What makes you think so?

That's [the pregnancy] the only thing that bothers us. Is the only thing that makes us unhappy.

Again, the choice of the woman depends mainly on the decisions of the man. Her happiness would then depend on his.

Woman issues as signs of weakness

In all three stories, aspects related to womanhood are downplayed and seen as signs of weakness.

In "A Doll's House," the mere fact that Nora is a woman drives Krogstad to take advantage of her in a moment of vulnerability when she needs money desperately. He knows that Nora would committ a major social faux pas by negotiating with a man that is not her husband. Moreover, he uses her guilt and desire for saving her family as reasons to blackmail her and demand things from her.

In "Story of an Hour," we find that, astonishingly, a specific behavior is expected of Louise Mallard because of the fact that having a heart condition may be seen as a nuisance in the eyes of many; her condition could be seen as a sign of weakness.

She's unwell, with a genteel condition, which means she can still act like and be treated like a lady.

In "Hills Like White Elephants" Jig is pregnant, and this is clearly a nuisance to the American man. The pregnancy interrupts their joy, according to him. It is "the only thing that makes the upset." This is another sign of how society views the female genre as an inconvenience.

In all, women are seen as dependents and their emotions and traits are seen as signs of weakness in all three stories. That is a key element that they all have in common and it goes hand in hand with a feminist philosophy.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.
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The Yellow Wallpaper

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