Historically, the position of women in the American society was vulnerable to oppression and discrimination from the part of men, to the extent that it is possible to speak about the enslavement and control of women’s body and soul from the part of men. In this regard, the feminist literature mirrors the full extent, to which the position of women in the American society was unjust and oppressed. In fact, women suffered from a severe oppression and discrimination because men hold the dominant position in the society and family life, whereas the role of women was often limited to household and child care. In such a situation, women had a long way to go to reach the personal happiness and professional success as did the narrator of Ruth Hall, but often women were so much oppressed and controlled by men that they almost ran insane as did the narrator of Yellow Wallpaper. In such a way, many writers, such as Perkins, Fern, Ehrenreich and English and others focused on the problem of the oppressed position of women in the American society and their efforts to resist and free themselves from the psychological and almost physical enslavement by men.
In order to understand then full extent to which women were oppressed in the American society, it is necessary to refer to feminist literature, which helps to uncover the enslavement and control of women from the part of men. On analyzing the works written by Perkins, Fern, Ehrenreich, and English, it should be said that their short stories are characterized by the high psychological tension, especially those of Perkins, Fern and others. At the same time, the psychological tension is constantly maintained by the growing complications of the narration. To put it more precisely, authors attempt to introduce more and more details which evoke a strong interest of the audience to the literary work. In such a way, the plot is strongly supported by the important details which are meaningful throughout each short story. In fact, American writers are traditionally concerned with interesting plot with numerous complications. For instance, a stream of conscious technique, which is quite popular in European literatures, is practically undeveloped in the three short stories mentioned above. At this point, it is possible to trace some element of stream of conscious technique only in The Yellow Wallpaper by Perkins. The main character, of the short-story is locked in the room and goes insane that makes the narration quite difficult to perceive, especially when the author introduces elements of the stream of conscious technique when the narrator’ imaginary world is conveyed to the reader.
At the same time, it should be said that the narration in “The Yellow Wallpaper” still contains significant complications, which revive the interest of readers and even the fantasies of the main character seem to be meaningful since the author practically eliminates the border between the real and imaginary world. In such a way, the reader begins to doubt whether the narrator is insane or not or probably there is some mystery in the room.
Remarkably, through the insanity of the main character, the author reveals the major theme of the short story, the theme of liberation of an individual. The freedom is crucial for the main character and this is exactly what makes the short story truly American. In fact, the freedom is the fundamental concept of American culture and, naturally, American literature, American writers could not remain ignorant of the importance of this theme. As a result, they created works where the theme of freedom was dominant and Gilman was one of such American writers.
The entire short story is the struggle of the narrator with the external world and her internal fears. She attempts to liberate a woman, who she believes is locked under the wallpaper. On the other hand, this liberation is rather the liberation of the main character herself than of an imaginary character. In fact, she rebels against the rules her husband attempts to impose on her and her insanity is also a form of freedom of the narrator. Such strife for freedom is typical for American writers.
In such a way, Perkins attempts to show the long way of the narrator to the liberation from the total control of her husband. In this regard, Perkins’ Yellow Wallpaper is, to a certain extent, similar to Fern’s Ruth Hall. At first glance, Ruth, the main character of the novel, is happy in her marriage but, in actuality, her freedom is limited to her household and family. She is totally oppressed by her husband and cannot realize her full creative potential until the death of her husband. Even though she mourns on her husband, Ruth understands that she has to carry on living and she has to find her way in her life to earn for living and to realize her potential. In such a context, the death of her husband brings her freedom she had not probably dreamed about. She starts her writing career and becomes a successful and popular columnist. Therefore, she has finally succeeded in her efforts and freedom from her husband overwhelming impact makes her a successful woman in regard to her professional career.
However, the view on women as inferior and invalid beings was maintained not only in families but also in society and science. At this point, it is possible to refer to Ehrenreich and English’s The Sexual Politics of Sickness, which reveals the 19th century scientific, medical view on women as inferior and vulnerable to health problems beings, which are weak and dependant on men. This view justified the overwhelming control of women established by men in their families and society at large.
Thus, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the 19th century American society was the male-dominated society, where women’s body and soul were enslaved and controlled by men. Women were oppressed and discriminated severely and they had a long way to go to free themselves from the oppression and discrimination from the part of men. In this regard, the feminist literature helps to understand the full scope of women’s discrimination in the American society in the past and gives insight toward the contemporary discriminatory practices in relation to women.
Ehrenreich, B. & D. English. The Sexual Politics of Sickness. New York: Garden City Publishers, 2008.
Fern, F. Ruth Hall. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.
Perkins, C.P. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In Selected Works. New York: Routledge, 2005.
Stewart, G. American Literature. Chicago: Routledge, 2005.