Women have been mistreated, enchained and dominated by men for most part of the human history. Until the second half of the twentieth century, there was great inequality between the social and economic conditions of men and women. The battle for women’s emancipation, however, had started in 1848 by the first women’s rights convention, which was led by some remarkable and brave women. One of the most notable feminists of that period was the writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Her story, ”The Yellow Wallpaper” amply demonstrates the conventional expectations placed on women. These expectations seemingly imprison women, much as the wallpaper does. To assert their independence, they must remove the bars imposed by patriarchal society.
The Yellow Wallpaper highlights the plight of many women during the 19th century. All women were seen by physicians as susceptible to ill health and mental breakdown by reason of their biological weakness and reproductive cycles. And those who were creative and ambitious were deemed even more at risk. The protagonist of the story might have been suffering from puerperal insanity, a severe form of mental illness labelled in the early 19th century and claimed by doctors to be triggered by the mental and physical strain of giving birth. The condition captured the interest of both psychiatrists and obstetricians, and its treatment involved quietening the nervous system and restoring the strength of the patient.
Moreover, the story illuminates the challenges of being a woman of ambition in the late 19th century. While all women were seen vulnerable, those who expressed political ambition (suffrage reformers), or who took on male roles and challenged female dress codes (New Women), or who sought higher education or creative lives – or even read too much fiction – could be accused of flouting female conventions and placing themselves at risk of mental illness. Mitchell, largely through his treatment of Gilman and her later description of this, gained a notorious reputation, and he may well have misdiagnosed her or believed that her intellectual pursuits were too introspective.
The violent actions upon women reflected in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates
In the story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates, Connie, the main character, faces a life changing problem. Connie is forced to lose her innocence after Arnold Friend, the antagonist, kidnaps her from her own home. The belittling of women has been present since Adam and Eve were created. The main argument portrayed in this story is that women are mistreated, manipulated, and violently abused by men.
Connie is compared to Eve, from Paradise Lost, through her innocence of the real world. Eve is unknowing of any evil in the world, until she is tempted by the serpent to eat the fruit off the tree to gain knowledge. Connie resembles this when she is compelled to be grown up and Arnold Friend tricks her into going with him so she can be like the older girls. Arnold explains to Connie, “I’ll have my arms tight around you so you won’t need to try to get away and I’ll show you what love is like, what it does” (Oates 11). Unfortunately when Arnold kidnaps Connie, he describes to her how he will rape her and she will fall in love with him. Also, Connie is a reflection of Pandora from “Pandora’s Box”. Both women are seen as curious and lacking knowledge when they have to make a decision. Arnold tells Connie, “Yes. I’m your lover. You don’t know what that is but you will” (8). Arnold Friend wants to bring knowledge to Connie, but in a wrongful way. Both instances are examples of men forcefully and violently treating women.
Arnold Friend is a representation of several antagonists that society associates evil with. This includes Satan, Dracula, and the big bad wolf. All three of these foes are portrayed in Arnold Friend’s behaviors and presentation throughout the story. Arnold Friend is seen as Satan in mostly everything he does, but the narrator illustrates, “He took off his sunglasses and she saw how pale the skin around his eyes was, like holes that were not in the shadow but instead in light. His eyes were like chips of glass that catch the light in an amiable way” (Oates 5). This description of Arnold Friend portrays his character as a Dracula like figure. Arnold is pale and looks sickly, which may make him resemble a vampire. Connie is thrown off by this, because she does not know how old he truly is. Arnold Friend also symbolizes the big bad wolf, and he firmly states, “Soon as you touch the phone I don’t need to keep my promise and can come inside. You won’t want that” (9). Just like the big bad wolf violated the pigs privacy and homes, Arnold Friend threatens Connie and explains how he will break into her home and bring her out aggressively. Arnold Friend carelessly manipulates Connie against her will, and is a danger to her well-being.
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Connie also signifies modern day women, and their struggles with violent men. Modern day women are mistreated and corrupted by men, as well as how Connie is by Arnold Friend in the story. Connie is frightened as Arnold persuasively speaks, “Now, turn this way. That’s right. Come over here to me… Now come out through the kitchen to me, honey” (Oates 11). Unfortunately, Connie has run out of options and is forced to walk outside with Arnold Friend. Despite Connie’s unwillingness to go with Arnold Friend, Connie’s thoughts were overtaken by the threat he had made towards her family. Connie knows she has to save her family, so she gives into Arnold Friend’s begging and goes with him. Connie knows she is going to be violated when Arnold Friend describes, “I’ll hold you so tight you won’t think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because you’ll know you can’t. And I’ll come inside you where it’s all secret and you’ll give in to me and you’ll love me” (8). Arnold Friend is overstepping his boundaries with Connie and any women in general. Connie, just like modern day women, was mistreated and raped by Arnold Friend.
Throughout the story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates, Connie is controlled by Arnold Friend in an inappropriate way. Arnold Friend, also a reflection of evil, abuses Connie’s lack of knowledge to trick her. Connie, a representation of innocence, is easily enticed to go with Arnold Friend. In closing, Connie symbolizes how women are violently treated by men, and society does not bring awareness to this conflict.
The violent actions upon women reflected in “the Yellow Wallpaper”
The short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, took place in a time period where men dominated strongly over women. Men controlled all that women did as stated by Pamela Balanza in paragraph four “women were not allowed to go outside the house for any reason unless it was approved by their husbands”. If the husband of a women said that she was crazy she would be sent into a psych ward without question. Similar to what happened within “The Yellow Wallpaper”. A woman was brought to a secluded home to “get better” from her mental illness following the birth of her child and her husband believed he was doing what was best for her, regardless of her disagreements. Her conversations expressing her concerns, furthered her husband’s belief that her sickness was worsening. He insisted she spend her time in a room which contained “horrid paper” that had lines that “held secrets” that she was determined to figure out.
Despite all of the main characters protests her husband, a well known and respected physician, wanted her to stay in an old nursery that had barred windows and “One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin” (Gilman pg 3). The yellow wallpaper found all over the walls in the room represented the secrets, and history of the house. The main character believes the room “was nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium, [she] should judge; for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls” (Gilman pg 3). She was happy that her newborn child was not experiencing this horrid room. After giving birth to her child, she was diagnosed with “temporary nervous depression — a slight hysterical tendency” (Balanza par. 9), therefore her husband took her to secluded home, to “make her better”. Instead his theory was proven wrong as seen, beginning with her obsession of the wallpaper and believing that there are women living behind the wallpaper. The main character describes the wallpaper as “a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight” (Gilman pg 4). When Gilman describes the wallpaper using words like “smoldering” and “unclean”, the readers gain a sense of darkness within the house, which is in direct contrast to the happy sensation yellow is usually associated with. The walls hold secrets that the main character soon becomes obsessed with, saying that the wallpaper “looks to [her] as if it knew what a vicious influence it had!” (Gilman pg 6).
Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses personification all throughout the short story to compare the wallpaper and the “women behind it” to her and the house. Both her and this other women are trying to escape from the “prison” they are being held in. The main character only sees this other women when she is alone. She always describes her encounter with the mystery women as “[t]he front pattern does move — and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!” (Gilman 17) and “it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern” (Gilman 11). The women hides behind the pattern and does not allow people to see her but wants to alert people of her existence, by shaking the wallpaper. When the main character finally frees the women behind the wallpaper, she also frees herself. The author used personification within the wallpaper to emphasize the main characters feeling of entrapment.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a very well known author and was also known as a feminist. “She called for women to gain economic independence and this helped her build up her standing as a social theorist at the time” (Balanza par. 8). Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” to stand up for women’s rights by showing how men took advantage of their power and the higher social status they enjoyed. The power husbands had over their wives and their fate, was what truly drove some women to insanity. Not being able to have contact with the outside world and feeling trapped, women found an escape within their own minds as the main character of “The Yellow Wallpaper” did. Gilman used many personifications in reference to the wallpaper which when examined closely can easily be identified with the main character. Gilman also used the color of the wallpaper to paint a gloomy, sad and dark setting. The methods Gilman used to show the declined development of her state of mind throughout the story helped the readers understand clearer what was going on in her thoughts.