There was a time (not so long ago) when a man's superiority and authority wasn't a question, but an accepted truth. In the two short stories, "Desiree's Baby", and "The Yellow Wallpaper", women are portrayed as weak creatures of vanity with shallow or absent personalities, who are dependent on men for their livelihood, and even their sanity. Without men, these women were absolutely helpless and useless. Their very existence hinged on absolute and unquestioning submission…alone, a woman is nothing.
The setting of both stories reinforces the notion of women's dependence on men. The late 1800's were a turbulent time for women's roles. The turn of the century brought about revolution, fueled by the energy and freedom of a new horizon…but it was still just around the bend. In this era, during which both short stories were published, members of the weaker sex were blatantly disregarded as individuals, who had minds that could think, and reason, and form valid opinions.
Also, in both tales, the characters are removed from society. In "Desiree's Baby", the plantation is bordered by a field and a bayou, isolating its inhabitants from the world. The narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" tells us, "Out of one window I can see a garden…out of another I get a lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf" (161). They are out in the country, where the modern city can't touch them, or begin to mold their sexist ways and old fashioned ideals into contemporary mindsets. This seclusion also ensures that no outside forces threaten the men's absolute and total control of their weak, defenseless charges.
In addition to their surroundings, the homes themselves...
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It's very sad to think that a woman and a man could have ever thought this way. However, it's even sadder to think that some still do. Women everywhere suffer abuse, mental or otherwise, at the hands or their (pri)mates every day. They must find the strength in themselves and the confidence to know that THEY are the ones who determine their own fate…and to realize that no one has the right to put them down. Our foremothers worked hard to make sure that we had choices-- not obligations. And when we let someone else take those choices from us, they are really taking our freedom, and our life.
Chopin, Kate. “Désirée’s Baby.” 1893. 8 Apr. 2003
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." 1892. The New England Magazine. Reprinted in "Lives & Moments - An Introduction to Short Fiction" by Hans Ostrom. Hold,
Orlando, FL 1991.
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