It is amazing to know how people perceive the world differently. People from various walks of life have different interpretation of daily experiences. This is so clear when discussing the issues that arise in stories by great authors. In this essay, we take a look at the perception towards women struggling to gain control over their fates as written by Kate Chopin, Merge Piercy and Gilman in their stories the Story of an Hour, Barbie Doll and Yellow Wallpaper respectively.
In the Story of an Hour, Kate Chopin presents an often unheard view about marriage. Chopin has tackled the issue of marriage and selfhood concept by portraying Mrs. Louise Mallard, as a strong woman. This happened due to her reaction when she is informed about the death of her husband in train accident.
The reader has a perception that Mrs. Louise would be greatly affected by the death of her husband when she learns it, but this is not the case. Instead Mrs. Louise Ironically feels a relieved when she receives the bad news. Her reaction probably shows that death does not necessarily cause grief to the close family members. One thing has to die for another to thrive as the death of Louise could have opened the door to a fresh new start of a life with so much freedom.
Kate Chopin seems to have a lot of things in common with her husband Louise Mallard who is also a major protagonist. They both lived during the period when women had very limited rights and privileged, prejudiced based on their gender. During this era women were required to be very submissive to their husbands. Their opinions were not regarded since women were meant to be seen, but not heard.
During those days, marriage was considered a sacred institution making divorce a rare thing. In the event that as divorce was necessary, the man would automatically have the legal of controlling of all of the property and children that he had with his woman (Hicks 1). Chopin grew up in a male dominated environment. She writes many controversial stories on abusive relationship and unhappy marriage. There were a lot of things that she did that were considered contrary to the societal norms of that period.
Mrs. Louise Mallard’s emotions changes from one state to another within an hour. She gets upset by the sad news of the death of a loved one but when she comes out of the room she seem to have already accepted the situation and adapting to the new situation. Though she is saddened by her husband’s death, she at once gets delighted by the reflection of her awaiting freedom.
Her passion for life is so evident. She anticipates for her new life in the future and how she would live as a free woman enjoying absolute freedom. As she begins to savor the sweet sense of freedom, her husband shows up at their house still breathing. On seeing him, she is shocked and dies because of the reality that strikes her. She is unable to bare the drastic change of emotion on learning that her husband was actually not dead. This will eventually deny her the freedom she has been longing for (Ostman 6).
In the poem “Barbie Doll”, author Marge Piercy makes use of four paragraphs to scornfully describe the cultural and societal expectations of the girl child from her birth, the bringing up, life and death. A girl faces some serious social problems as she grows up in the community.
These challenges include issues such as peer cruelty and societal pressure to conform to its normal and keep a certain kind of image of a woman which that society deems ‘ideal image of a woman’. A girl is shown to have a life that is full of challenges and less options to enjoy it.
The society is depicting it to begin at birth, upbringing, the girl gets married and finally faces sad death. This literary piece depicts such life as boring and very short. The poem is presented in a tone of depression and sadness, depicting the culturally unacceptable image of our society.
When this girl is born, she is “presented with dolls that did pee-pee/and miniature GE stoves and irons/and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy” (Piercy 4). This exposes her to unwittingly ideals and expectations of society. The girl was given toys that were designed to teach her to adapt the life of a wife which was basically that of looking.
This type of influence inadvertently pulls the girl into a different world or her subconscious without her noticing. When she hits puberty the sponge rings, sending a cascade of awareness over her. One of her classmates proclaimed to her that “you have a great big nose and fat legs” (Piercy 6). These nine simple words are not the foolish opinion of an immature classmate, but devastating news.
Her attempts to conform to the ideals that the society teaches are no longer subconscious rather deliberate. She felt bad that she did not fit in these ideals. She kept going to and fro to her friends apologizing for her “fat nose on thick legs” which was all anyone could see. To her, no one saw that “she was healthy, tested intelligent, possessed strong arms and back, abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity” (Piercy 9), which are all good qualities, but her package wasn’t perfect.
The societal pressures follow certain way of life or perception of a beautiful and attractive girl became and ultimately notion of a good woman faded away. She therefore cut her nose off and her legs too to offer them as her body and soul to the baseless societal pressures (Piercy L 12-15). She could have literally cut her nose and legs off but she sought to have them replaced by new technology of plastic surgery. This drained her physically and emotionally in attempts to get what society wanted her to get.
The fairy-tale about “Barbie Doll” depicts the society as being able to cause very destructive consequences because of the enormous pressure it puts on women requiring them to behave in certain ways of life like the looks and conduct in public. Gender roles weaken women’s self-confidence and cause havoc on their self-esteem. Piercy suggests that the creator of Barbie doll has participated actively in the male dominated society of the “patriarchal societal system” by promoting women stereotypes.
As one of the leading toy selling in US, Barbie dolls have used the strategy of idealizing the female body, such that it have turned to be an iconic in the American culture. Parents purchase these dolls for their daughters, who in turn try to attempt to imitate Barbie’s form, presentation and the values that it embodies. This symbolizes as a beautiful, though tasteless, blonde who does just anything she is told to (Beer 5).
In the Yellow Wallpaper, it shows female person undergoing “treatment” for anxiety, a condition that signifies worry. It is ironical that the doctor happens to be her own husband. She is put in a room which was earlier on occupied by a mentally challenged patient. After a few weeks, the woman starts portraying symptoms of being paranoid and experienced hallucinations regularly. All the way through the story, the woman is seen to constantly refer to the yellow wallpaper (Mikolajczyk 67).
The first issue that arises in the story is when interpreting the meaning(s) behind the wallpaper. The yellow color could possibly infer something concerning insanity which makes the woman to repeatedly refer yellow wallpaper patterns which are peeling off the walls.
More to the point, the patterns could be suggestive of chaos erupting from orderliness. It is obvious looking at the number of times she mentions the wall pattern that it has a great impact on the mental condition of the woman. She could be delusional seeing woman move behind the wallpaper, as if she wants to break out from it.
This could in fact imply that it is a ‘reflection’ of herself in the wallpaper or it she could just be hallucinating that someone behind the wall. At the end of the story, she assumes on the role of a “creeping” woman. She is seen to follow a blotch around the room and over the body of her husband who has fainted.
In short, the woman has been trapped in the paper and tormented by Dr. John’s unsympathetic heart for her condition. With three kids to take care of, the mother is attempting to find humor and reflections amidst the chaos she is undergoing. When her husband was on overnight call, she could pack up the kids and head over to the hospital for a visit. The kid could get some much needed father time and Dr. John always took a break from a very long shift.
In conclusion, the three stories clearly present the world’s perception towards women who are in constant struggles to gain control over their fates. They show us what a women’s life would have been if they remained silent without any struggle. Although they are fictions, but there is a lot we can learn from them.
Beer, Janet. The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.
Gilman, Charlotte P.”That Rare Jewel.” Women’s Journal 17 May 1890: 158. “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Other Stories. Ed. Robert Shulman. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. 20-24
Hicks, Jennifer. An Analysis of the Story of an Hour. 1999. 20 April, 2011. http://www.eliteskills.com/c/6576
Mikolajczyk, Michael. Literary analysis of Marge Piercy’s Barbie Doll. 2009. Web.
Ostman, Heather. Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays
Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008. Print.