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“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Gilman and “My Last Duchess” by Browning Essay

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Updated: Sep 1st, 2022

The current paper will analytically compare the two works, namely The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and My Last Duchess by Robert Browning. The main character in The Yellow Wallpaper is a woman who has recently married a successful physician (Gilman 3). After she gave birth to their child, her mental health deteriorated, and her husband prescribed her the rest cure – absolute isolation forms the world she lived in. The narrator soon found herself observing the patterns of the yellow wallpaper of the room she stayed in. She started seeing women behind the wallpaper, and she was convinced she had to set them free. Eventually, the narrator began to perform the same behavior she observed from the women in the wallpaper. The narrator of My Last Duchess tells about the painting of his latest duchess (Browning 1-56). He is talking about her beauty, yet blaming her for being happy with something to expect for him. It becomes clear that he is directly related to the duchess death. Thus, these two works will be analyzed and contrasted further.

The Yellow Wallpaper is represented as diary notes of the narrator, while in My Last Duchess, the narrator is talking to a present audience. The Yellow Wallpaper’s main character is a victim of circumstances. The duke in My Last Duchess does not seem to care about the death of his wife. Instead, he is pleased that now he is the only person she smiles at. Despite these differences, there are significant similarities between the characters. The narrators of both stories show an obsession – either for another person or for an idea in their mind. Furthermore, the main characters of both stories are unreliable narrators, and their sanity is questionable. Moreover, the characters represent the mutual elements of patriarchy. In other words, the duke is the man who takes control of his wife, and the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper is a woman who feels unhappy but believes she can not change anything. Thus, the narrators of the stories may be considered as very close types of narrators, and this paper explains each point of the argument in detail.

To start with, the world of both narrators is limited with their obsessive thoughts and intentions. The duke from My Last Duchess pays much attention to whom his previous wife smiled at, what was she happy about, who was she grateful to, except form him. He explicitly states that his duchess should only care about and pay attention to him in the lines “She thanked men—good! but thanked / Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked / My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name / With anybody’s gift” (Browning 31-34). Similarly, the main character of The Yellow Wallpaper aims focuses on the wallpaper pattern. She starts to see something more significant than a pattern, and soon she recognizes meaningful figures behind the pattern: “I’m getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper. It dwells in my mind so!” (Gilman 16). Thus, in both stories, the main characters are obsessed with an object of thought and can think beyond.

The narrators are sure they are free or are becoming free. For example, the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper claims “I’ve got out at last” (Gilman 38). It is worth mentioning that in this final scene, she can hardly be seen as herself because her identity seemed to transform into the pictures from her hallucinations. This probably means that she did not see any way to escape from her situation except for denying her personality. When she accepted and revealed her transformed identity, she felt released and able to do whatever she wishes. Likewise, the duke demonstrates that he thinks he is almighty and unconstrained, and, therefore, he thinks that he is free from his responsibilities. However, this freedom is delusional because the narrators are not free from their obsessions, from other objects that actually controls them. They do not belong to themselves, and their life is stuck in this delusional world.

More about The Yellow Wallpaper

Furthermore, the sanity of both characters is questionable, but they seem to be unaware of it. They do not show the ability to stand at a critical position to themselves. The duke casually tells how he caused the death of his wife but does not show any regrets or other negative feelings: “This grew; I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands / As if alive” (Browning 45-47). The narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper asks without irony “Now why should that man have fainted?” when her husband saw her creeping around the room (Gilman 38). The narrators’ questionable mental state is also particularly salient because their motives and beliefs are revealed to readers. Although they are supposed to be unreliable narrators, they are only unreliable in terms of their perception of the world, but not in what they believe in. The narrators are sure that they are truthful, which makes the analysis more difficult in terms of narrator’s objectivity.

The deviation from a typical stream of thought especially reveals in their paranoia. Almost from the beginning of The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator starts to notice “something strange about the house” (Gilman 6). Although there is nothing wrong with the feeling, the story reveals further that is was the beginning of a bigger issue. As for My Last Duchess’s duke, he was also very attentively observing and noticing anything that matched his idea, that his wife did not belong to him.

Another point they share is that they are both in the situation of the discriminative society. Although the stories take place in different centuries, the narrators represent two polarities patriarchy. They both live in a world where it is men who decide how women should behave and what is better for her. They both are inside this social structure and perceive it as the normal one. The narrator from The Yellow Wallpaper states about his husband that he laughs ae her, “but one expects that in marriage” (Gilman 3). And then she blames herself for not being grateful for his caring saying “he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more” (Gilman 7). The duke also expresses his position about the treatment expect from his wife claiming “Just this / Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, / Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let / Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set / Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse— /E’en then would be some stooping;” (Browning 37-42).

However, one would say that it is a fallacy to treat these two characters as similar. It is possible to consider the duke as an amoral and egocentric person, whom he cares only about possessing, while the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper is a victim of the circumstances. Therefore, one could conclude that she is sincere in her writings to her diary, unlike the deceitful duke. Nevertheless, the point is not that they are the same, but that despite their obvious dissimilarity, there are similarities that show their unity in their reasoning and behavioral pattern. Moreover, as it was mentioned above, they are both sure they in their own truths that are objectively delusions. Thus, as the narrators of their stories, they are quite similar, although they represent different kinds of personalities.

To conclude, one can find specific similar features of the narrators in The Yellow Wallpaper and My Last Duchess. These characters demonstrate an obsession with their objects, and they build their world around this pervasive idea. Their ideas control them, and that is why one can hardly see where is still the narrator’s true self speaks and where is already their insanity. The narrators seem to be fine with their final state of mind, they are delusionary convinced that they are free. Although they live in different eras, they are within the same social structure. They belong to patriarchy, but since they represent the opposite sides of it, their destiny is also opposite. However, in their discourse, they clearly represent the part of this society, and they are determined by these social rules. Overall, the narrators demonstrate different personalities, but the motivation and the characteristic of the narrative can be described in a common way.

Works Cited

Browning, Robert. “My Last Duchess.” My Last Duchess and Other Poems. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1993.

Gilman, Charlotte P. The Yellow Wallpaper. The Floating Press, 2009.

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IvyPanda. (2022) '"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Gilman and "My Last Duchess" by Browning'. 1 September.

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