Every detail of both "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and "The Chrysanthemums" by John Steinbeck drips in loneliness and solitude. These stories, so similar in theme, leave the audience with a feeling of complete and total desolation. Both authors know how to use their words to convey the intense feelings of the characters in their stories. There is no room for doubt that the protagonists in each of these stories is at her wits end, trying to escape her own isolated world by any means possible.
In "The Yellow Wallpaper", Gilman describes the intensity with which Jane, the protagonist, despises the wallpaper in the room her husband has confined her to. After Jane gave birth to a baby, she fell ill with something her husband, John, referred to as a "nervous disorder." John thought it best for her to try the "rest cure", proposed by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, and moved everyone to a beautiful mansion, secluded from all outside contact, for the summer so Jane could rest and get back to normal. In reality, she was suffering from post-partum depression and just wanted to be around people so she could get back into her old lifestyle. Locked in practically just one room for an entire summer, Jane took a huge interest in the wallpaper...
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... She has no children of her own to look after, so in a way, these flowers are like her children. She puts a good amount of her effort into nurturing them and getting them to grow big and strong, much like a mother would do to her children.
Just as Jane does in "The Yellow Wallpaper", Elisa devotes her time and energy to the flowers to make up for the fact that she can't care for another human being. Her poor relationship with Henry only fuels her need to care for something.
Gilman and Perkins use heavy attention to imagery to convey the vast amounts of loneliness and unhappiness that these women felt with their marriages. Isolation can drive women to such extremes that they may be driven mad or leave them clinging to the hope that one day someone will truly care.
Kelly, Joseph. The Seagull Reader. New York, London: W.W. Norton. 2005.
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