Throughout history, society has had an image of how everyone should act andpresent themselves that conforms to the serotypes society has constructed. With society’s constructed image people tend to develop a habit of seeking approval from others, following along with the crowd by conforming and not forming their own individual identity. Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Flannery O’Connor short stories both symbolically portray in different ways the issues with society’s constructed serotypes that caused the suffering of women in society during their time. Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” revolves around women’s treatment, oppression, and confinement by men in the nineteenth century. Whereas O’Connor’s short story “Good Country People” focuses on the identity given to an individual, the identity given to groups of people, and the parallels between truth and deceit. Gilman’s and O’Connor’s combination of metaphorical characters, tone, imagery, symbolism, and relating to real-world issues reveal a glimpse into the reality of women’s suffering. In this essay, I will conduct a literary analysis of how these two short stories respond to each other about how the serotypes of society are very deceptive, pressure people, into conforming to the conventional wisdom of society, and not allowing people to develop their own individual identity. Conclusively, the short stories put an emphasis on the perception that society constructs for people and how these perceptions mold the identity of people which is represented in the characters.
Comparatively, Gilman’s and O’Connor’s writings reflect on the reality during their time of what a woman’s job in society was and the way women were perceived in society. During the time that Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper,” it was widely evident that there was discrimination towards women. Gilman’s short story allows the reader to see some of the issues that plagued society in which women were seen as being a mentally weaker gender because it directly comes from her own personal experiences. The female narrator is suffering from depression diagnosed by her husband, John, and she makes it evident that this illness is due to her repression by her husband. To which the reader can see in the quote, “John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him” from the way John interacts with the narrator and thinks of her as lesser than himself (Gilman 513). The reader can also see the narrator conforming to the way women were perceived in society in the quotes, “Personally, I disagree with their ideas” and “But what is one to do” (Gilman 511, 512). In the first quote the narrator talking to herself about having concerns with the treatment planned by John and believes that excitement and change would be a better-suited treatment. But in the second quote, the reader can see the narrator does not want to question her husband’s treatment anymore after John persuades that the treatment is going to help her. Which is a representation of the way women were perceived in society living in a patriarchal society.
While, during the time that O’Connor wrote “Good Country People” there was still discrimination towards women, who were supposed to hold more of a domestic role while men worked to support the family. In her writing, she portrays the characters in a way that provokes the reader to not only to have compassion for women but also to recognize their strategy in surviving in a man’s world. The character of Hulga in “Good Country People” holds a doctoral degree in philosophy in a society that has preconceived notions of what women’s job should be. The reader can see this in the quotes, “this left Mrs. Hopewell at a complete loss” and “You could not say, “My daughter is a philosopher”” (O’Connor 1370, 1371). Where her mother Mrs. Hopewell is talking about not being pleased with her daughter’s choice in education for a job and naming many other professions she would be proud to say her daughter was. To which the reader sees that Mrs. Hopewell not only represents the society’s constructed perception of what a woman’s job should be but also the conforming to the way women were perceived in society. O’Connor’s writing is presenting the reader with the notion that woman should not be limited to society’s perceptions but be allowed to accomplish what they want. Both Gilman’s and O’Connor’s short stories are responding in different ways to the reality of society’s perceptions put upon women through their characters that is merely a representation of society’s view on women as a whole.
In addition to the way women were perceived in society Gilman’s and O’Connor’s writing also reflects on society’s perception of marriage and a women’s position in marriage. Society’s perception was that women were supposed to get married and stay at home allowing the husband’s will to significantly influence their actions, while the notion of being a divorced woman was seen as a terrible stigma to which society cast these women as being black sheep. The characters of Mrs. Hopewell and Hulga in O’Connor’s writings are portrayed in a way that represents fighting against society’s serotypes and perceptions of women in marriage. Mrs. Hopewell is a divorced single woman that not only runs a successful farm but also simultaneously holds the traditional domestic role that society perceives for women. O’Connor’s writing portrays Mrs. Hopewell as a strong independent woman that can do all the things that men can do and more, showing the reader that women and men are equal. Hulga is a thirty-two-year-old woman with a doctoral degree in philosophy that has never married and dislikes all the young men in her town. O’Connor’s writing portrays Hulga as self-sustained women that takes pride in her education when society perceives that women should stay home and begin a family. In Gilman’s short story she presents the character of the narrator as a representation of insight into gender subordination of women by showing how the traditional nineteenth-century marriage ensured that women remained has second-class citizens. The narrator is married to John who is moving the family to a summer home to help with her illness. John is a controlling husband that does not take into account anything the narrator is feeling or tries to tell him and thinks that he knows what is best for the narrator. To which the reader can see in the quote, “He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures” (Gilman 511).
Finally, both Gilman’s and O’Connor’s short story contain the literary element of the grotesque in the yellow wallpaper for the narrator and Hulga’s leg.
In conclusion, Gilman’s and O’Connor’s short stories share a deep connection between their characters and how they respond through the characters to the serotypes society has constructed for women through the. The narrator symbolizes the suffering of a woman surviving in a man’s world where women were not seen as equal to men. Mrs. Hopewell, who symbolizes both the real strength that women possess and how people also at times conform to the serotypes constructed for women. Hulga, who symbolizes
Work Cited Page
- Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature: 1865 to the present. 9nd ed. Vol. II. Robert S. Levine. W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. 511-523. Print.
- O’Connor, Flannery. “Good Country People.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature: 1865 to the present. 9nd ed. Vol. II. Robert S. Levine. W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. 1367-1380. Print.