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“Women”, is a word associated with a nurturing persona; in modern times, a symbol of perseverance and strength. However, the opinion on women has been shaped throughout the years with both negative and positive connotations. Although the perspectives changed, many still oppress women, finding them inferior to men. The short stories, “The Yellow Wall Paper”, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and “The Story of an Hour”, written by Kate Chopin, both written in the 1800s, similarly use the depiction of authoritative characters, specifically their family, to convey the message of the oppression and standards held against women in previous time periods. Through the restrictions of freedom, constraining environments, and an authoritative outlook on women, the reader notices the undermining of females.

The two short stories convey elements pertaining to women and the oppression of their freedom. “The Story of an Hour” discussed the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, who, in this story, are husband and wife. Within the writing, Mrs. Mallard described her feelings as if her wings were clipped while in marriage with her husband. When she became aware of his apparent passing, it resulted in Mrs. Mallard excelling through a series of vast emotions. Moreover, she felt a sense of freedom when she no longer had to condemn herself under the reign of Mr. Mallard. The following story states,

There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon fellow creatures. (Chopin 1)

Despite a possible loving bond between the pair, Mrs. Mallard experienced relief when her husband’s passing became apparent. She felt liberated from a force, which would no longer suppress her and her views. Nonetheless, Mrs. Mallard understood she could finally live for herself. She would not need to accommodate herself into the confined shell whilst becoming the “perfect wife”. Consequently, the short story “The Yellow Wall Paper” also emphasizes the authoritative depiction of a husband, John. In this narrative, the main character seemed to have mental conditions prompting her husband to assist her. Forbidden from exercising her mind in any possible way, John’s assumptions of his wife’s feelings led him to patronize and dominate her, all while under the impression that he was “helping” her. Furthermore, the narrator was unable to express her own opinions and was often condemned due to her “nervous condition”. For instance, the text states, “You see he does not believe I am sick… If a physician of high standing…assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one…what is one to do” (Gilman 1). Since he was respected in their community, his word tramped over her own; meaning her emotions and belittlement were dictated by how John understood her condition. Moreover, this short story expressed how she lacked both freedom and existentialism, relating to Mrs. Mallard as mentioned in “The Story of an Hour”.

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Just as the men jeopardized the women’s freedom, they additionally played a role in enforcing constraints. Each story encapsulated the idea by displaying how each husband implemented their ideology, in turn limiting the women. In “The Yellow Wall Paper”, John restricted many activities the narrator participated in, such as writing in her diary, which appears as a harmless hobby. In the narrative, it states, “There comes John, and I must put this away, – he hates to have me write a word” (Gilman 3). This quote displays how the narrator was intimidated by the proclamations John made. She often took his words, generally commands, seriously. Another example, prominently described in the narrative, relates to John refusing to let the narrator exit her room. This caused women to be fixed in the room for most of the day. Gilman depicts this in the quote, “…it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs…” (Gilman 4). This suggested the woman remained in a setting where leaving was not an option. Elements including the windows and the gate propose the main character was not present in a free-willed environment. Similarly, in the narrative “The Story of an Hour”, it is apparent that Mr. Mallard too placed constraints on his wife. However, Mrs. Mallard felt a mental constraint of becoming the “perfect wife”. She underestimated how much of her life she must give away in hopes of pleasing everyone. Though a specific limitation towards Mrs. Mallard was not mentioned, the reader may infer a present constraint through her actions. The following states, “…a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under the breath: ‘free, free, free!’” (Chopin 1). The quote implies that Mrs. Mallard felt liberated as she released herself from her husband’s limitations. As previously stated, this related back to the feeling of freedom which arose. Furthermore, the limitations placed on Mrs. Mallard and the narrator from “The Yellow Wall Paper” affected how characters were portrayed within each story.

The authoritative tendencies of commanding figures in each piece of writing affected the woman by displaying a parental relationship towards them. The main characters of each story were, in a way, belittled by imperious figures. The story “The Yellow Wall Paper” portrayed the main male persona, John, referring to the narrator in ways in which a father would treat his child. John addressed his wife in an authoritative nature, leading to the inference of having a “parental” relationship. In the narrative Gilman wrote, “What is it, little girl?’ he said. ‘Don’t go walking about like that you’ll get cold’” (Gilman 9). John refers to the narrator as a “little girl” and displays a tendency of instructing her in ways a parent would in regard to their child. In addition, statements such as “Bless her little heart!” (Gilman 10) disparage the woman. As previously mentioned, the usage of “little” gave the narrator a childlike persona, in turn implying her husband had control. Comparably, the second short story authored by Chopin depicts an authoritative nature between Mrs. Mallard, Josephine, and Richards. The characters wanted to shield Mrs. Mallard from the truth. In an attempt to release the devastating news as gently as possible, they instead involuntarily harmed her. As writing proposes,

“Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death. It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences…”. (Chopin 1)

Good intentions were preconceived by Richards and Josephine; nonetheless, refraining to expose life-changing information, stretched into the realm of authority over emotions. Another example referencing an authoritative perspective involved Josephine insisting on barging into Mrs. Mallard’s room. As stated by the author, “Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door – you will make yourself ill” (Chopin 2). This quote describes the protective nature Josephine displayed toward Mrs. Mallard. In this case, similar to a parent caring for the safety of their child, Josephine was frightened for the safety of her sister. Likewise, though each of the authoritative figures in the stories intended to better the situations, they instead negatively affected both women.

As mentioned in both, “The Story of an Hour” and “The Yellow Wall Paper”, insufficient freedom, limitations, and an authoritative power over the women in the stories related to ways in which women were oppressed. Each writer conveyed the message of how the oppression of women related to the commanding personas in their lives. Though each wanted to help, the supporting characters began to subconsciously harm the women. Women today slowly break stereotypes that were once placed upon them. They emerged out of the oppression as a phoenix from the ashes. Standing strong and in unity, women exceeded all expectations and exhibited independence from those who oppress. As Susan B. Anthony once said, “No man is good enough to govern any woman without her consent”.

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