The Institution of Marriage in Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? and The Yellow Wallpaper

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“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is concerned with the unequal status of women in the society that has a direct bearing on the institution of marriage. Women are forced into solitude as per the prevailing conventions of the society. Suffering of women is the theme of the story and as such how the institution of marriage can command respect? This view is corroborated by Simone de Beauvoir in her book “The Second Sex,” and she argues that within a patriarchal society, a “woman does not enjoy the dignity of being a person; she herself forms a part of the patrimony of a man: first of her father, then of her husband' (82-83) Menfolk do not realize the damage they cause to the psyche of women, whether wife or daughter, due to over-protectiveness. The narrator in “The Yellow Wall Paper,” suffered from the inferiority complex as her psyche was controlled by her overbearing husband due to which she almost lost her independent thinking power. 

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All avenues for the growth of her personality were barred from her physician husband who firmly believed that he had the panacea for all her ills. She was diagnosed as ill, even though she was not! She lived the life of enforced solitude and that was not the fault of any individual, but the societal conventions demanded that. Husband had his own procedures to deal with his wife. The narrator articulates, “It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so.” (81)After marriage, her over-protective husband was not willing to allow the sapling of her personality to grow. She bemoans, “John is a physician, and perhaps—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind--) perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.” (74) Her God-gifted creativity was given no opportunity to grow. She laments, “It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work.” (77) She turned cynical.

Joyce Carol Oates held similar views about the institution of marriage as that of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and threw light on it though the character of Connie. She was rebellious by nature right from her teens and she resented the traditional sexual beliefs. She desired to enjoy life and exercise freedom to mix freely with the boys of her age. That was the first jolt provided by Gilman in the story related to the importance of marriage. The laughter subtly indicated her attitude towards marriage. Elaborating this aspect of her personality Joyce Carol Oates writes, “Her laugh which was cynical and drawing at home….Ha, ha, very funny…but high-pitched and nervous anywhere else, like the jingling of the charms on your bracelet.”(27) Through Connie’s multi-dimensional character Oates commented on the marriage dynamics. Connie was aware of the sexual prowess of the feminine gender. She ardently desired to flirt with the boys and enjoyed their carefree association. 

She was a bifacial personality, the one who wore masks, one for outside and the other one within the home. Elaborating this further Oates argues, “Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home.” (27) Then one fine day, Arnold appeared in her life and her disposition towards the opposite sex changed entirely. The ideas of true romance engulfed her and her perception about the institution of marriage changed. Unable to control her emotions she broke down, and like a true member of the family, she requested for parental help and called out her mother. The perception of the institution of marriage by Carol is—a girl can get true happiness in marriage if she is able to get an affectionate and understanding boy, and the girl’s response should be ardent and sincere.

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