“Revolt of Mother” and “The Yellow Wallpaper”, are two stories that uniquely portray the undesirable circumstances of gender inequality during the Victorian Era of 1837. During that time, women were treated as housemaids, were only allowed to do specific job duties, and were given limitations toward the activities that they could participate in. Authors, Mary E.W. Freeman and Charlotte P. Gilman, were able to uniquely portray the perspectives of women during that time period through the lives of the main characters of their stories. In the “Revolt of Mother”, the main character was an African American woman named Sarah Penn. Mother Penn was a stay at home wife and mother who was faced with the decision of obeying her husband or choosing to do what would make her happy. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Gilman’s main character, Charlotte, was diagnosed with a mental illness that affected the way that she viewed her surroundings. Her husband wanted her to relax and have limited mobility, but Charlotte was determined to discover her happiness and freedom. Both women desired to experience specific things that they knew would position them to have to make a huge decision. Either they would choose to listen to their husbands as it was naturally structured or they would choose to create an environment for themselves that they would be truly happy in.
“Nature’s Way” can be traced back to the Victorian Era of 1837 when race and gender inequality were at an all-time high throughout the world. Men were the dominant figures and the women were expected to submit under them. During the reign of Queen Victoria, she was acknowledged for being an influential public figure and was applauded for bringing respect back to the throne (Garden 1). According to society during that time, it was expected for the women to stay home and care for the children while the men went out and provided for their families. Since she was a woman, Queen Victoria was given limited power in comparison to the previous male monarchs who had held the same position as her. Instead of reacting negatively to the loss of power, she became an icon and chose to represent feminity as family-centered, respectable, and domestically virtuous (Abrams). Victorian feminism began to transform both politically and socially. The women started to become more involved in the public sphere. Many of them could not get jobs because of their gender and social class, but that did not stop them from venturing out despite the consequences of their homes. The influence that Queen Victoria had amongst the women caused her to experience numerous assassination attempts throughout her reign because of her new approach of power (Williams). However, that did not stop her from transforming the traditional customs of England and earning her respect from both men and women.
Freeman and Gilman were able to cautiously captivate and provide the reader with
an opportunity to feel and experience the lives of the main characters through the text of the story. Mother Penn was a farmer’s wife whose main responsibility was to take care of the home and look after the children. Her husband had promised her that he would build her dream home after they were married but did not keep his promise. Instead, he decided to build a new barn for his livestock. Mother Penn pondered on the option of holding her husband accountable for the promise that he had made to her or to upkeep the expectation of society and remain grateful that she had a home to live in with her family. Mother Penn was faced with the conflicts of man vs. society and man vs. man. She knew the limited amount of authority that she had against her husband according to tradition but she also knew the amount of power that she possessed as a wife in her own home. Local color and Regionalism are able to be seen through the text of this story. Some of the language and customs that the author used help indicate that the story was written in an earlier time period and was set in a small town in the South. Freeman based the setting on a farm in rural New England and used the viewpoint of the main character, Mother Penn, to help narrate the story. The plot of the story seemed unpredictable because most readers could have made the assumption that Mother Penn would have simply obeyed her husband and continued to wait until he finally built the home. However, Mother Penn chose to go against society’s traditions and provide herself with the happiness that she so eagerly desired. She moved her family into the new barn that her husband had built, while he was away purchasing more livestock. Mother knew that her candid decision would not be received well within the society, but she was tired of tradition and knew that she was making the right decision for her family. She said, “I’ve thought it all over an’ over, an’ I believe I’m doin’ what’s right”(Freeman). The majority of women in her town would have listened to their husbands and obeyed, but Mother knew that she could not remain happy living in the old house and decided to do what would make her happy instead of dismissing her feelings because of societal gender role expectations.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a unique story about a woman named Charlotte. She is diagnosed with a nervous depression by her husband who is also her physician. Charlotte and her husband, John, move into a summer home during her illness and she soon begins to have hallucinations about the yellow wallpaper that is in her room. Charlotte believes inside of the wallpaper is a woman that is trying to escape. She tells John and her sister-in-law about the things that she has seen, but they dismiss her feelings and blame it on her illness. Charlotte does not understand what the woman inside of the wallpaper represents but she does know that the woman is trying to break free. The author described the husband’s character as a man that is very concerned about the well being of his sick wife. Charlotte’s husband has control over everything that she does and even makes a schedule of her daily activity. Charlotte does not like the feeling of having others control her actions but she tries to cooperate especially with her mental state. She is determined to solve the mystery of the wallpaper. She locks herself inside of her room and rips the wallpaper off of the wall in an attempt to capture the woman inside. Instead of capturing the woman that she thought was inside of the wallpaper, she discovers that the woman is actually herself trapped inside of a mental prison. Charlotte said, ‘“I’ve got out at last,” said I, “inspite of you and Jane! And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!””(Gilman). Charlotte is expressing her newfound freedom and the discovery that she is free from the mental shackles that were unknowingly placed on her by her husband and others. Women then and now have been commonly known to experience mental depressions because of the pressure that is placed upon them from the expectations of others. Charlotte knew that she would never be able to sit still and just let life happen to her. Her happiness and freedom were beyond her imagination but she was concealed and detained because her family was not ready to release her so that she could find the freedom that she longed for. Local Color and regionalism both apply to this story. The setting takes place inside of a colonial mansion, specifically in a bedroom that is covered with yellow wallpaper. The language and nature of events allow the reader to know that the story was written sometime in the 1800s and in a city that consisted of wealthy individuals. Determinism played a vital part in this literature work also. Charlotte had a problem and was determined, despite her condition or the opinion of others, to not stop until she solved the mystery of the wallpaper.
Mother and Charlotte were placed in positions that required them to become the dominant controllers of their peace of mind. Both women made the decision to no longer allow the opinions of others to stop them from accomplishing whatever they desired to have. The freedom that both Mother Penn and Charlotte received when they finally took control over their own lives was a feeling that most women would have never experienced during that era because of the way that society viewed the role of the woman. In comparison, Queen Victoria, Mother Penn, and Charlotte all conveyed a desire to want something more than what they had. Queen Victoria wanted the respect of the Englands, Mother Penn wanted her dream home, and Charlotte wanted the freedom to do the things that made her happy. Their roles in each story are a depiction of courage, strength, and determination. Their femininity allowed them to be vulnerable while also proving their strength in a world where they were given a disadvantage because of their gender.
- Abrams, Lynn “Ideals of Womanhood in Victorian Britain” History Trails (18 September 2014) p1 http://www.bbc.co.uk 6 Oct 2019
- Freeman, Mary E.W “The Revolt of Mother” The Norton Anthology American Literature (1891) p657 6 Oct 2019
- Garden, Waddesdon.M “Victorian Era and Life of Victorians” The Victorian Era (September 2016) p1 http://victorian-era.org/ 6 Oct 2019
- Gilman, Charlotte.P “The Yellow Wall-Paper” The Norton Anthology American Literature(1892) p855 7 Oct 2019
- Williams, Kate “Queen Victoria: The woman who redefined Britain’s monarchy” BBC (May 2019) Jurnal entry 28 https://www.bbc.com/timelines 6 Oct 2019