The Elements of Gothic Fiction in The Yellow Wallpaper and a Rose for Emily

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

Introduction

Gothic fiction is a genre whose “dominant mood is terror and suspense” and whose characters include an “ingenuous hero or heroine surrounded by mysterious or threatening individuals” (Kennedy 72). Greg Johnson’s article “Gilman’s Gothic Allegory: Rage and Redemption in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, outlines a number of gothic elements in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story that could also be found in William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily.” Both literary works use specific gothic elements such as a distraught heroine, repressive male antagonist and forbidden desires that are important to connect with the reader and allow them to feel the storyline.

A Distraught Heroine

A distraught heroine is defined by Johnson as someone who is subjected to confinement that led her to rebellion since she refuses a life of “unhappy, silent acceptance” choosing “madness over repression” (Johnson 3). In his article Johnson states that Gilman’s heroine’s experience should not be view as a “final catastrophe but as a terrifying, necessary stage in her progress toward self-identity and personal achievement” (Johnson 4). At first, the yellow wallpaper represents her view of herself, atypical and ugly, in her role as wife and mother “repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight” (Gilman 649). Nonetheless, by the end the narrator believes she has freed herself “I’ve got out at last,’ said I, ‘in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!’ (Gilman 656). In William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” some of the passages described through the story contribute to the reader’s compassion and sympathy towards Emily’s character “We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will” (Faulkner 173). Emily had aspirations to find love and create a family but her father, who is an oppressive and strict figure, prevents her from growing as a woman. At thirty she is still single and later her father’s death further isolates her. The town is also guilty of her downfall since their prejudices and traditions put pressure on her “Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town” (Faulkner 167-168). Even though some of her actions are repulsed, since it’s discovered that she killed Homer Barron, her boyfriend, we can understand her motivation and the reasons why she took such drastic actions accepting “madness over repression” (Johnson 3) which fits in a profile of a gothic heroine.

Powerfully Repressive Male Antagonist

Another element in gothic fiction is the presence of a “powerfully repressive male antagonist” (Johnson 3). Johnson describes that in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” John is a “physician of high standing,” and a figure of dominance in every sense and represses the “hysterical tendency of women” (Johnson 5). Throughout the story, it is evident that the narrator is over ruled by her husband who believes that isolation is the best cure for her post-partum depression. John shows disrespect towards his wife, which made her believed that she is not on an equal level with him “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” (Gilman 647). It’s also noticeable that she can’t question his methods regarding her own well-being. “I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus–but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad” (Gilman 648). Similarly, in Faulkner’s short story Emily struggles under the control of a dominating father who prevents his daughter from marrying. He rejects all her potential suitors since “None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such” (Faulkner 172). Emily, therefore, is alone because of her father’s strict standards for a potential husband. His father’s death left her in denial and she agreed to release his body for burial after a lot of pressure, which highlights her isolation and solitude since her father was his influence on her ideas and actions. In both stories, the distraught heroines struggle with how to gain their independence back since a male figure appears to be holding them back.

Forbidden Desire

Forbidden desire is found in Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “A Rose for Emily” By William Faulkner. In both stories, the main character’s desires are oppressed.

In the “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator is caught between the realistic world of her husband and her own imaginative one, so she attempts to save herself through writing to discover herself. However, John has given instructions that she shouldn’t tell stories or use her imagination because it might lead to a worse mental condition. But, the narrator thinks that writing her ideas would make her feel better. “I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me” (Gilman 649). Comparably in “A Rose of Emily,” the main character is torn between the rigorous traditional principles of the patriarchy and what she really wants, Emily never has a chance to control her own life, falling victim to her own repressed desires of love and companionship.

Conclusion

Gilman and Faulkner works have common elements found in gothic fiction such as a distraught heroine, repressive male antagonist and forbidden desire. A distraught heroine could be seen in both stories since each woman is subjected to confinement that led them to rebellion. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator went through a process of self-identity allowing to free herself. Emily from “A Rose for Emily” she had to accept madness over repression since she had to take drastic actions. Male dominance is something that is showed in both stories, because the main characters, at some point, feel they can’t be complete without a dominant male role in their life or that it was forced upon them. However, they both find a way out of this over powering rule. Forbidden desire is another important element since both women struggle with how to gain their independence back, in Charlotte Perkin’s story the narrator found that through writing she could feel better however she is instructed that she shouldn’t tell stories or use her imagination. William Faulkner shows us in his story that Emily’s desire of finding love are oppressed by his father which led her to a life of solitude. Both stories showed multiple elements of gothic fiction which help the reader have a better understanding of the story line.

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