Kate Chopin's story The Awakening and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story The Yellow Wallpaper draw their power from two truths: First, each work stands as a political cry against injustice and at the socio/political genesis of the modern feminist movement. Second, each text is a gatekeeper of a new literary history. Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman seem to initiate a new phase in textual history where literary conventions are revised to serve an ideology representative of the "new" feminine presence. Two conventions in particular seem of central importance: "marriage" and "propriety".
Donald Keesey, editor of the critical collection Contexts for Criticism, describes "convention" for us as,
devices of structure and plot, techniques of character representation, and a vast reservoir of images and symbols are conventions that most Western literatures, at least, have in commonBut like the conventions of language, they have meaning only to those who have learned them (Keesey, 262).
Literary convention is on one side the particular tool or image; for example, "baptism" can be used as a literary a convention. It is a "convention" because it brings with it a set of inferences, i.e. rebirth, renewal, awakening, initiation, etc. This relation of the signifier to the signified is what Chopin and Gilman seek to revise in the conventions of "propriety" and "marriage". The preceding definition of "convention" leaves us with an important question, namely, "What if what the existing conventions imply is insufficient? What if, as in the case of Chopin and Gilman, the canon (as a reflection of society at large) has failed to recognize the feminine voice?" As these authors have shown us, when such is the ...
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...ier." New Essays on The Awakening. Ed. Wendy Martin. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. 89-106.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, The Yellow Wallpaper, The Feminist Press, 1973.
Gilmore, Michael T. "Revolt Against Nature: The Problematic Modernism of The Awakening." Martin 59-84.
Giorcelli, Cristina. "Edna's Wisdom: A Transitional and Numinous Merging." Martin 109-39.
Keesey, Donald, Contexts for Criticism. Mayfield Publishing Company, 1994.
Martin, Wendy, ed. New Essays on the Awakening. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.
Papke, Mary E. Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1990.
Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969.
Showalter, Elaine. "Tradition and the Female Talent: The Awakening as a Solitary Book." Martin 33-55.
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