Free Essay

Opression and Freedom of Women in Literatu


Submitted By avel18
Words 1668
Pages 7
Oppression and Freedom of Women in Literature

In the Nineteenth Century, women are viewed as inferiors to men. They are considered to be on the same level as children. Their role in society is that of housewives, child bearers and caretakers. However, women desperately needed more out of life and aspired to be like men. Throughout history women have fought for freedom and for society to view them as equals to men. Unfortunately, marriage in the Nineteenth Century is the only acceptable position for a woman. In Margaret Fuller’s book, Women in the Nineteenth Century, she describes the different types of marriages. The first type, the household partnership, is merely a convenience and a mutual dependence. The man is the provider and the woman is the caretaker. The second type is a mutual admiration, where man and woman share pure feelings with one another. The last is a marriage of intellectual companionship, where the man and woman are friends. The “transition of marriage in earlier times is that of convenience” (Fuller). These marriages lead many women to feel heavily burdened, both mentally and physically. In the literary works “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin, both women are characterized as victims oppressed by their marriage and their strong desire to be free. In each story, the women depicted are oppressed in their marriages. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the unidentified woman is taken to a summer house by her husband, John, so she may recover from her condition of a nervous depression more commonly known today as post-partum syndrome. Here, she is isolated from her friends and family and confined to a room with barred windows and “revolting” yellow wallpaper. John, also a physician, thinks it is best to keep her mind clear. He “has cautioned (her) not to give way to fancy in the least” (Gilman) and has “absolutely forbidden (her) to do ‘work’ until (she is) well again” (Gilman). However, she disagrees knowing his treatment will not benefit her. After being secluded for so long, her mental state begins to decline. The yellow wallpaper she initially found disgusting is now captivating her. She sees “a woman creeping down and stooping behind that pattern” (Gilman) in the wallpaper trapped and trying to get free. At the end of the story, it is revealed that she is that woman. These events demonstrate how she has been oppressed in her marriage, specifically by her husband, John.
In “The Story of an Hour” Chopin portrays Louise Mallard as an oppressed woman trapped in her marriage as well. It is not as obvious in this story because Chopin only defines the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Mallard through the Louise’s actions in her story. When Louise was given word that her husband, Brently Mallard, has been killed in a tragic train accident, her response to this news shows of the oppression she has been subjected to. Louise’s initial reaction was not the same as many women, they are “paralyzed (with the) inability to accept its significance” (Chopin). Instead, “she wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment” (Chopin). Her cries were not of sadness but of joy. Louise knows that she should feel sorrow however she cannot help but to feel a sense of relief because she “saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (Chopin). The death of her husband brought Louise an overwhelming sense of freedom, “Free! Body and soul free!” (Chopin). The fact that Louise was overcome with happiness knowing that her husband has died and looking forward to a life that she can finally live the way she has always desired proves that she was distressed in her marriage.
In both stories, the women are not fully aware that their marriage would condemn them to a life of oppression. It was not until other debilitating circumstances entered their lives that they realized how unhappy they are in their marriages and how the desire to be free would empower them. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” the woman seems to be somewhat content in her marriage until she has become weakened with a nervous condition. Her husband seems to treat her well and love her dearly. However, as well as his intentions are for his wife, he belittles her and treats her as a possession as oppose to a partner in life. “He said (she) was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that (she) must take care of (herself) for his sake, and keep well” (Gilman). He repeatedly refers to her as a child when he calls her “my darling” or “little girl” placing him above her. He assumes total control over his wife when they get to their summer home because he knows what is best for her, ignoring all of her comments and opinions. “It is so hard to talk with John about (her) case, because he is so wise, and because he loves (her) so” (Gilman). Little did he know it was his treatment that caused her to come to the conclusion that she was being repressed by him.
In “The Story of an Hour,” the age difference between Mr. and Mrs. Mallard is evident that their marriage is loveless and one of convenience. “She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength (Chopin)” whereas he has a “face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray” (Chopin). “She had loved him--sometimes. Often she had not” (Chopin). But her love for him is not the love expected between a husband and wife, it is more of a love that is shared with a companion. Louise did not make the connection of how much her marriage burdened her until she receives news of her husband’s death. After a brief moment of grieving her husband’s death, Louise was sitting in her chair looking out the window daydreaming like she has done many times before. However, with her husband dead Louise’s daydreams are now a possibility. This is when she becomes fully aware of just how oppressed she really is in her marriage.
Both women express throughout their stories their strong determination to be free. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the woman goes mad due to the isolation imposed on her by John. She believes that the wallpaper is moving and watching her and that there is a woman imprisoned within it. “I really have discovered something at last…The front pattern does move—and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!” (Gilman). The woman that is trapped behind the wallpaper portrays the woman telling the story. She is conveying that she herself is a prisoner and that she is struggling to be free. However, she also insinuates that at times she is free, mostly during the day when she is all alone. This is seen when she compares herself creeping by daylight with the woman trapped in the wallpaper. She believes “that woman gets out in the day time! (She has) seen her! It is the same woman, (she knows), for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight” (Gilman). She is now determined to release the woman from the wallpaper at night. Through madness she locks herself in the room and tears as much of the wallpaper off the walls as she could, setting free the woman and herself from confinement. She has “got out at last…in spite of (John) and Jane! And (she has) pulled off most of the paper, so (John) can’t put (her) back!” (Gilman). Through insanity, the woman was finally able to free herself from her husband’s debilitating ways.
In “The Story of an Hour,” Louise is not upset over her husband’s death, she is indifferent. Eventually she is overcome by a feeling of “Free! Free! Free!” (Chopin). There was a “vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed (Chopin).” Louise tried to fight it because she knew in her mind it is wrong to feel this way but in her heart it is right. So she “opened and spread her arms” (Chopin) to welcome her new life. With her new found freedom, she is eager to live. “It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long” (Chopin). For someone who just lost their husband she is full of life, she has “triumph in her eyes and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory” (Chopin). Upon finding that her husband is not dead, she dies of heart disease. The realization that her husband is still alive forces her to renounce her freedom, because she is once again placed under his control. After knowing what it is like to be free, the shock of having to go back to her old life kills her. Through her death, Louise is finally able to sustain her freedom and escape her life of oppression in her marriage.
In the short stories, “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story of an Hour,” the women illustrated are able to prevail over a marriage of oppression and become liberated. One woman accomplishes this by experiencing a complete mental breakdown. Unfortunately, the other woman has to die in order to achieve her freedom. Literary works like these portray how many women felt in the Nineteenth Century. However, those women were not as lucky as the women in these stories. They never got to encounter what it would be like to live a life of freedom and self-assertiveness.


Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Exploring
Literature: writing and arguing about fiction, poetry, drama and the essay. Frank Madden. Pearson, 2012. 676-687. Print.

Gilman, Kate Chopin. “The Story of an Hour.” Exploring
Literature: writing and arguing about fiction, poetry, drama and the essay. Frank Madden. Pearson, 2012. 71-72. Print.

Fuller, Margaret. Women in the Nineteenth Century. Courier Dover Publications,1999. Print.

Similar Documents