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Maya Angelou once said that “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” I couldn’t agree any less with her on this. Women have been oppressed over the centuries by men and society. Men have been the superior being in society and women the inferior beings.
The role of women has been to take orders from men and do anything they are instructed to do. The two short stories, The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkin Gilman respectively illustrate the hardships women underwent in order to overcome the oppression of during that time. In order to fight oppression in this century, educating women on their rights and how to fight for those rights when infringed is the best way to bring an end to the perpetual scourge of oppression on women that has been profound.
Overview of the Two Short Stories
The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin depicts how women in the 19th century were mistreated and oppressed by men. The story begins with Josephine, Loise Mallard’s sister telling her of the death of Brently Mallard who is her husband. Mrs Mallard had been suffering from heart disease, and her sister was telling her the death of Brently gently by dropping cues which suggest that her husband had died. Initially, Mrs Mallard received the news with shock, and she cried. After realizing that her husband was dead, she went into her room and breathed a sigh of relief. When she was looking out of the window, she saw a new life, a new beginning whereby nobody will be imposing her on what to do. She was finally free. However, this freedom was not to last as it seems those who reported her husband’s death were wrong. Her husband opens the door unaware that he had been declared dead and Mrs Mallard dies of shock on seeing him.
Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper shows how a woman fought hard in order to win her freedom. From the beginning of the story, the woman describes how she is being ignored. The woman recently gave birth, and she believes that she is sick, but nobody believes her. Her brother is a physician as well as her husband, but both believe that if she rests, she will be fine. Her husband John forbade her from writing as it will tire her, so she wrote when John was away. It was during this rest period that she worked on freeing the woman who she says is trapped in the wallpaper. When she finally manages to free her and John comes back, she tells him that she has freed herself and will no longer be his captive. John faints on seeing that her wife was free he fainted “right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!”
The authors of both stories are explaining how hard it is for a woman to be free from a society controlled by men. In The Story of an Hour, Chopin explains how Mrs Mallard was joyous on learning that Brently had died. To her, life was starting afresh now that nobody will be dictating to her what to do, this was however cut short by the return of her husband who as she faints and dies of a heart attack. In The Yellow Wallpaper, it took the main character three months of rest to break free herself from oppression. The freedom of the woman she believed was trapped in the wallpaper was her freedom. The husband fainted on realizing that his wife was finally free, and he will no longer oppress her.
The main characters in both stories are completely controlled by their husbands. In Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, the woman in the story talks of how her husband controls her both mentally and physically. She cannot decide on what to do, John, because he is the physician knows what is good for her, and she cannot question that because he is the professional. In Chopin’s The Story of an Hour, Loise was being fully controlled by Brently. On hearing that Brently is dead, Mrs Mallard went to her room, closed the door and thought of how she will live the remaining years for herself. The death of her husband was like liberation to her. In her room, she was whispering her new found freedom, freedom of both body and soul.
In both stories, there is a misdiagnosis. The doctors who arrived after Mrs Mallard had died proclaimed that she died as a result of “heart disease—of joy that kills.’. This is not the truth since Mrs Mallard died of shock on realizing that Brently was still alive. The doctors make it seem like she was overjoyed on learning that her husband was alive. In The Yellow Wallpaper, the woman in the story was diagnosed with ‘temporary nervous depression’ by her husband and prescribes some medicine and rest for her. The woman gave birth recently, and she might have been suffering from postpartum stress.
The women in both stories find their freedom in different ways. In Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, the freedom of the main character came in the form of insanity. After being kept indoors in a room with wallpaper with the image of a lady on it, the woman became obsessed with wallpaper and the desire to free the woman from that trap. In The Story of an Hour, Mrs Mallard’s freedom is death. After being informed that Brently had died, Mrs Mallard was overjoyed as she had finally found much-sought freedom. On discovering that Brently is still alive, Loise fainted and died.
The approach taken by the authors in arriving at the theme is different. Gilman (2002) in The Yellow Wallpaper used symbolism to deliver her message of oppression of women. The wallpaper was keeping the woman on the story in captivity. The woman became free after freeing the woman she thinks is trapped in the wallpaper. Chopin, in The Story of an Hour, uses irony in her story to show the oppression of women at the time.
On receiving the news of her husband’s death, Mrs Mallard was joyous instead of grieving, and when she sees her husband is alive when he entered the house, she faints and dies. The doctors call what she died of “heart disease—of joy that kills.’ Her behaviour in both situations is against societal norms. On receiving the news of Brently’s death, it’s expected that she grieves, but she does the opposite. When Brently comes home alive, she faints and dies; in normal circumstances, she is expected to be happy given that her husband had been declared dead and now he’s alive (Chopin, 2018).
The two short stories clearly depict the oppression women undergo in society. The bondage the women in both stories were in is as a result of their ignorance. They had accepted the role their husbands had designed for them. It is only after the occurrence of certain events in their lives that they decide to break free from the bondage their husbands had kept them in. For Mrs Mallard, it was the news of the death of her husband that broke her free while for the woman who happens to be the main character in The Yellow Wallpaper, it was the wallpaper in her bedroom that pushed her to break free from her husband. Education is the key to helping women understand their rights so that they will not be oppressed. Oppression of women is still an issue in the 21st century just like it was in the 19th century, it is, therefore, our responsibility as a society to help women break free from oppression.
- Chopin, K. (2018). The story of an hour. Joe Books Ltd.
- Gilman, C. P., (2000). The yellow wallpaper and other writings. Modern Library Classics.