The Yellow Wallpaper and The Story of An Hour

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Groucho Marx once said, “I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury” (Groucho Marx). Inevitably, awareness of toxic relationships in society is common knowledge. Whether the relationship is experienced first hand, or someone of acquaintance, toxic relationships are devastating. Often, the most conflicting aspect to toxic relationships is that no one is a target, until they are a victim themselves. These types of relationships can happen to anyone, regardless of education level, race or age. As a matter of fact, specifically the toxic relationships are often a theme seen in a variety of works of literature. An example of works of literature in which this theme is addressed are Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour as well as Charlotte Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.

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The short stories The Story of an Hour and The Yellow Wallpaper were both published in the early 1890’s with similar themes. The works of literature revolve around the perception men have upon women. The short stories are characterized by women striving to conform to the standards of society fabricated for women by who are searching for freedom. The psychiatric fabrications in which fall upon the protagonists as a result of being oppressed in each ones relationship are evident throughout the stories. The protagonists in each story are both in search of freedom in vain.

The stories both depict unhealthy relationships upon oppression, and the search of nugatory freedom. In The Yellow Wallpaper the protagonist struggles with mental health issues; depression. Struggling to find a solution to the underlying issues, she moved with her husband to live in an isolated mansion. The issues in which the wife struggles with throughout the story are inevitably unresolved, and the husband is to be blamed for the suffering caused in result of isolating her. Likewise, in The Story of an Hour deviation from the idealized grief cycle after the protagonist learns of her husband’s death is evident through the text. It can be said that acts of oppression in a relationship results in a lack of power upon the victimized individual, thus, resulting in a psychological downward spiral and a longing for freedom. By examining the topic of unhealthy relationships as a result of oppression through a psychoanalytic lens of Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour and Charlotte Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper it becomes evident that the oppressor holds control, causing detrimental damage to one’s psychological state; furthermore, the characteristics of a relationship are significant factors that influence mental and emotional well being.

To begin, the first way in which oppression in a relationship inevitably causes detrimental damage to one’s mental well being, is through denial of freedom. The Yellow Wallpaper introduces the main character; a woman struggling with depression. She, in search of freedom redundantly is locked away in a room alone, by her husband; a doctor. The freedom in which she searches for is motivated by deficient separation from her husband, to live her own life. However, her freedom is denied, at a time in which she yearns for it. The protagonists denial of freedom by her husband is evident through her isolation, “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous

depression–a slight hysterical tendency–what is one to do?” (Gilman 1). Not only does her husband deny her of freedom, he is inevitably in denial of the extent of her struggles.

In comparison, the protagonist; Mrs.Mallard, in The Story of an Hour is similarly confined in a room, in due course, the room gestures as a platform to ultimate freedom. Distinct behaviour in the room is exhibited, in which she is confined to. The room is used as an avenue through which the protagonist self destructs, similarly in The Yellow Wallpaper. Oppression in Mrs.Mallard’s marriage is not directly evident, however, through conflicting emotions upon her husbands later death it is not wrong to assume that she was in search of freedom. Immediately upon hearing the news of her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard “She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms” (Chopin 1), however, through analyzation of text oppression becomes evident, “She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’ (Chopin 2).

Oppression is defined as; unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power, especially by the imposition of burdens; the condition of being weighed down; as an act of pressing down; a sense of heaviness or obstruction in the body or mind(Cite This). Moreover, oppression can be defined as dehumanization and exploitation; portraying unjustness and cruelty. The protagonists in The Yellow Wallpaper as well as The Story of an Hour are dehumanized by eaches significant other. The impact is emotional.

Secondly, living in inferiority of another; one’s significant other, is unhealthy as one must live for them self. Nevertheless, living for another, and not one’s self causes deteriorating mental health complications. In The Yellow Wallpaper the protagonists husband is a physician who is depicted as seemingly domineering. A sense of strain is evident; he is laughing at her silly ideas about the vacant house they’ve taken; she tries to blow it off by saying that’s just what marriage is like. She is trying to obey and play the role of a ‘good wife’. One could say that oppression causes detrimental damage to one’s state in such a way, that he; her husband is the primary cause to blame for her depression through emotional neglect, and the act of treating her as if she is incapable child. By denying her of freedom to do anything, apart from wallowing away in a room exposes the blatant oppression of women in a relationship; a principle of male hierarchy. Her helplessness in regards to this leads to her hysterical tendencies; psychiatric downward spiral.

Comparingly, in The Story of an Hour, Mrs.Mallard confesses upon marrying her husband, her life had changed drastically; and not in a happy honeymoon way. When informed that her husband has passed away, a sense of happiness is felt; imagining a life without him, “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself” (Chopin 2). Through analyzation of the protagonists conflicting emotions in regards to her husband’s death, it is likely to assume that she suffered from depression as a result of male hierarchy in her own marriage; causing detrimental damage for her well being, concluding why she feels she now as an ‘elixir of life’. She mentions that her soul and body are free.

Lastly, the thoughts and motives of the protagonist in both The Yellow Wallpaper and The Story of an Hour. In both stories the rooms are used as avenues to freedom. The woman in The Yellow Wallpaper experiences mental problems from a lack of activity forced upon her by her oppressor; her husband. When left alone in a room her thoughts are only focused towards the design of the yellow wallpaper; inevitably driving her insane. She attempts to destroy an image resembling a woman in who she finds in the pattern, in an attempt to free her own self. Through the woman she pursues her own identity, however, she becomes further psychologically unstable. Her unsuccessful attempt to free herself from her relationships, and the thoughts in her mind from the toxicity present, ultimately led her to escape in imaginative ways, “but in the places where it isn’t faded and where the sun is just so–I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design” (Gilman 5). The image of the woman in which appears in the wallpaper symbolizes her own confinement to the room, sharing similar confinement with the woman in the wallpaper in her mind with the image in which she sees, and further destroying it; freedom. The destruction in which she conducts makes her feel as if she has finally attained freedom from the circumstances of her marriage, and from the room in which her husband confines her to.

In The Story of an Hour, Mrs. Mallard is also confined to a room, which leads her to her ‘ultimate freedom’. The reader is able to analyze Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts in which she fathoms confined in the room. When in a confined solitary room, psychological contrast upon emotions is evident. After learning about the death of her husband, she confines herself in a room, within the room she finds confidence and ultimate freedom. Exclamations that she is free at last is evident through her joy of being free from her own husband, and then disappointment that follows when she learns that he is alive. The use of ‘bitter’ indicates that Mrs. Mallards shows the sadness of her husband’s passing. Yet, the fact the she can ‘see beyond’ it shows an unusual grasp of perspective upon her future, “but she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome” (Chopin 1).

In conclusion, The Yellow Wallpaper and The Story of an Hour are descriptive of the role of women and their lack of independence as a result of being oppressed in a relationship, leading to psychological downfall of the oppressed, by the oppressor; their significant other. The protagonists in each story work effortlessly to achieve freedom, however, their naivety causes them to fail inevitably. Ultimately it is evident that the oppressor holds control, causing detrimental damage to one’s psychological state; furthermore, the characteristics of a relationship are significant factors that influence mental and emotional well being; failing to achieve this freedom results in breaking points of each protagonist.     

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