The Story of an Hour and The Yellow Wallpaper are both set in the late nineteenth century; an era where men were predominately the sole providers of their household and they held high dominance in the workforce and society. During this time, society viewed women as second-class citizens, which in turn encouraged the oppression of women. “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.
A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination” (Chopin14). The institute of marriage and the restraints that marriage exerts on women ties together the main female protagonist of each story. Apart from the similarities, we, the readers, are also exposed to many differences between the main female protagonists based on the manner in which they each handle their situations and circumstances.
In The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, we are introduced to a highly expressive female protagonist and the drama and emotional turmoil she is currently experiencing. The female protagonist is suffering from a nervous disorder, likely postpartum. “nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency” (Gilman 55) As an active physician, her husband, John has prescribed his wife’s treatment, which largely involves confining her to a room within the rented house. So I take phosphates, or phosphites- whichever it is – and tonics, and air and exercise… and am absolutely forbidden to ‘work’ until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas” (Gilman 160). We also learn that John has forbidden his wife from using her imagination during the treatment, however she secretly rebels and continues to delight her imagination through a secret diary. Due to the female protagonist’s disorder, she becomes obsessed with the strange wallpaper in her room, to the point where she is convinced that there is a woman actually trapped in the wallpaper.
Initially she disapproves of the woman who is wishing to escape from the wallpaper, “tie her up”, but as the story progresses so do her symptoms and she becomes completely absorbed and fixated with the woman in the wallpaper. The female protagonist becomes one with the wallpaper and by freeing the woman in the wallpaper she in a sense gains her own freedom. The female protagonist in the Yellow Wallpaper sinks deeper and deeper into her imagination and becomes more dislodged from her daily surroundings, whereas Mrs.
Millard, the female protagonist from The Story of an hour is constantly aware of her behavior and its impact on her surroundings. Mrs. Millard is very conscious of her surroundings and demonstrates this when she is informed of her husband, Bentley’s death. Mrs. Millard acts precisely on queue, behaving exactly as society would expect of her; crying dramatically. “she wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arm. ” (Chopin 3). Only once Mrs. Millard removes herself from the sight of her, does she turn to her own thoughts of blissful freedom.
Mrs. Millard’s behavior demonstrates stronger self-control and self-regulation compared to that of the volatile female protagonist in The Yellow Wallpaper. We cannot ignore the fact that there is a very a clear distinction between the degree of rationality exercised by either women. Mrs. Millard remains in control of her imagination and only looses herself momentarily in a realistic fantasy of her life as a widow. Whereas, the female protagonist in The Yellow Wallpaper is completely irrational and focuses all her mental energy on examining a neutral object.
Her descriptions are sporadic and flamboyant, making very little sense to one who is not suffering with this nervous disorder. “But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror” There are many similarities between these two female protagonists mainly that they are both rebelling the restraints that society and marriage have enforced on them. Both women are ultimately wishing to regain their individuality by obtaining their freedom. I would argue that Mrs.
Millard is the more successful of the two women in her quest for freedom. Despite the fact that Mrs. Millard dies due to the sheer shock on her heart when she realizes her husband is actually still alive, this is in itself is freedom as it removes her from a miserable restraining marriage. “Free! Body and soul free! ” (Chopin 3). Mrs. Millard is only referred to by name at the moment that she feels free of her husband “Louise, open the door! ” (Chopin 3). In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the protagonist’s name is never revealed.
The female protagonist from The Yellow Wallpaper revels in some sense of freedom by freely expressing herself in her journal and by allowing her own imagination to run free when examining the wallpaper. The wallpaper offers her hours of stimulating entertainment, which helps to release much of her tension and appears to be quite therapeutic. “You think you have mastered it, it turns a back-somersault and there you are, it slaps you in the face and knocks you down” (Gilman 167) Although she enjoys this prohibited entertainment, we have to remember that her freedom is still very limited as she remains a prisoner in her room. I’ve got out at last…in spite of you and Jane. And I have pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back! ” (Gilman pg. 70) Both women are desperately seeking to escape their current situations, however only one woman, Mrs. Millard is truly successful in this mission. Although both women feel imprisoned by their spouses, we can only realistically validate Mrs. Millard’s gripes with her husband as the woman from The Yellow Wallpaper is greatly influenced by her nervous disorder that prohibits rationality and distorts her reality.