Oppression Of Women In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening And Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper

1324 words - 5 pages

Edna Pontellier of Kate Chopin’s work The Awakening as well as the nameless female narrator of Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper both experienced similar forms of gendered oppression, who have become frustrated with their conventional womanly roles. In having like experiences, these literary works prove effective in relaying the issue of gender inequalities among men and women in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Although both Chopin and Gilman’s portrayal of their character’s dissatisfaction with women’s societal roles resemble one another in more than one way and they both fight for their autonomy, they do differ in the types of independence from a patriarchal society they strive to separate from. The nameless narrator of Gilman’s story fights against the mental suppression that she experiences because of her illness—namely from her husband and doctor, John. Edna from Chopin’s The Awakening fights for a physical independence from her husband and children. In this essay I will explain the ways in which both of these characters are oppressed in a male-dominant society, as well as their attempts to convey their frustration, and the different kinds of independence strove they achieve.
The nameless narrator of Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper suffers from a mental illness that she refers to as “Hysteria.” This type of hysteria that she experiences is a nervous exhaustion that can only be cured by the removal of oneself from all types of stimulation—essentially, bed rest. Needing a little more insight into this “Hysteria” that the narrator was diagnosed with, I read a chapter entitled “Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’” from a book by Paula Treichler. According to Treichler, women were thought to have “weak bodies and impressible minds (Treichler, 61)” making them “predisposed to any physical and/or mental disease that could affect their fragile emotional state (Treichler, 61).” This proves to be the case in The Yellow Wallpaper. At the beginning of the story, the nameless narrator writes “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do? . . . So I take phosphates or phosphites—whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to ‘work’ until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas . . . (Gilman, 1684).” This demonstrates the degree to which her societal oppression reaches. The dominating opinions of her husband, John, are valued far more than hers, as well as her brother’s, who also happens to be a doctor. Although she doesn’t agree with this diagnosis or the treatment she shall receive because of it, she is a disempowered woman in the nineteenth century—there is nothing she can do to change her new situation. Her belief that “…congenial work, with excitement and change would...

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