Womanhood in The Awakening and The Yellow Wall-Paper

July 3, 2019 by Essay Writer

Society of the 19th Century gave a heightened meaning to what it means to be a woman. According to the commonly known “code of true womanhood,” women were supposed to be docile, domestic creatures, whose main concerns in life were to be the raising of their children and submissiveness to their husbands. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wall-Paper capture, in their respective works, two women who have turned down these expected roles, and, consequently, suffer because of it. The husbands of these women, entirely because they stand to represent patriarchal society, are a great deal to blame for the “condition” of their wives. In an examination of these works, this essay will discuss the role played by the husbands, as well as what these female writers might be saying about men in general in their writing.The very first words Chopin ascribes to Leonce Pontellier point out his paternalistic view of his wife: “What folly! To bathe at such an hour in such heat!…You are burnt beyond recognition…” (Chopin, 44). Clearly, Edna Pontellier’s husbands looks at her as if she is his property. The reader comes to see Leonce as a fiercely conventional, respectable, and conservative man. However, he is by no means portrayed as a tyrant by Chopin: he is kind, lovable, but chiefly concerned with money and showing off that money. There are three scenes in the novel which show the oppressive nature of Leonce as well as the development of the enormous gulf between Edna and her husband. In the first scene, in the bedroom, after being scolded by Leonce about not being a good mother, Edna responds by crying. Later, on the porch, she responds with defiance, refusing to come in to sleep, according to her husband’s wishes. Finally, in New Orleans, after a fight with her husband, Edna violently throws off her ring, and reacts with rage. These scenes, as well as the journey into the sea at the end of the novel suggest that she has become awakened to the oppressive nature of her husband, and that of the institution of marriage in general.The Yellow Wall-Paper is also a story which shows the anatomy of an oppressive marriage. The narrator of the story encodes the rage that might be felt by a woman who is forced into idleness by the scripts of her husband and the medical establishment. Simply because the narrator does not cherish the joys of married life and motherhood, and therefore, is in violation of the rigid code of true womanhood, she is classified with a nervous condition, and sentenced to passivity. The narrator clearly feels a hostile rage against her husband, and the ending of the story confirms this deep-bedded anger. Under the cover story, the compliance of a woman to her husband, is the story of a heroine rebelling against the social constructs that deny her. The narrator is being silenced by her husband, and she is forced to be dependent on John for her every need. He treats her in a very paternalistic way, for example, when the narrator gets up to see if the wallpaper really does moves, John reacts by saying, “What is it, little girl?…Don’t go walking about like that-you’ll get cold” (Gilman, 23). The paternalistic manner in which the narrator is being treated only foreshadows her child-like state at the end of the short story: in a metaphor for the entrapment of bourgeoisie women, the narrator is reduced to crawling on all fours.In their work, Chopin and Perkins seem to be conveying a message about men that is very critical. They seem to be alluding that men see their wives as property, as dolls, or as an extension of themselves. By portraying the husbands as they do in their respective works, Chopin and Perkins are calling attention to the need in society to move away from the separate spheres, and a need to move closer to the equality of the sexes attained in the 20th century.

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