What are some comparisons between "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "Trifles"?
Both Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Susan Glaspell's Trifles share the themes of the dangerous nature of repression, the treatment of women, and alienation.
- Repression and treatment of women
Both the narrator of Gilman's story and Mrs. Wright, formerly Minnie Foster, suffer deeply from repressive acts upon their artistic spirits. For instance, the unnamed narrator has the keen sight of an artist who loves symmetry, and flowers and nature, while Minnie loves music, quilting, and songbirds. But, both women are forced to live under the starkest of conditions that deprive them of human companionship and conversation and all but mere necessities. For instance, the unnamed narrator notes,
I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.
In Trifles, in a similar fashion, out of her deprivation of human communication, Minnie purchases a canary who sings to her, as she once did herself when she was young and happy.
The repetition of repressive acts against Gilman's narrator and Mrs. Wright clearly break down their spirits and endanger their minds. In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator feels so repressed and virtually trapped in the room with the "hideous" walls covered with an asymmetrical pattern that she becomes delusional, imagining a woman behinds the "bars" of the wallpaper's lines who struggles to free herself. Eventually, her husband finds her insanely crawling along the floor; she tells him,
"I've got out at last...in spite of you...and I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!"
Also damaged mentally by her loneliness and repression by the hard, cold, and cruel Mr. Wright who silences the songs of the pet canary, Mrs. Wright (Minnie) has a mental breakdown and retaliates against her husband in a deadly similar fashion as his killing of the pet bird.
Having been deprived of human companionship for a prolonged period, especially the company of understanding and friendly women, the two female characters have become isolated from those with whom they could communicate and share in experiences. For them, therefore, life has become haunted; they feel alone and bereft of the significance of friendship, music, and art--those things that nurture the soul.
Starved for the meaning that sharing with another living creature brings, the two women of the narratives under discussion, lose their holds upon reality as a consequence. In Trifles, Mrs. Hale reflects upon this existential condition of alienation:
MRS. HALE: I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be--for women....We all go through the same things--it's all just a different kind of the same thing.
In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the isolated narrator begins to hallucinate, imagining that it is she who, having freed herself, creeps off
away...in the open country,...as fast as a cloud shadow in a high wind.
Clearly, both "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Trifles deal thematically with the great psychological antagonists of repression and alienation along with the feminine reaction to these enemies of the imaginative and sensitive soul, a reaction that is, at the same time, defensive and destructive.