An Analysis of Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper
Length: 1045 words (3 double-spaced pages)
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin are stories of two women that suffer from ailments, one mental the other physical, who are very emotionally detached from their husbands. Emotional detachment could stem from complacency in the marriage but I believe it’s their illness that is the cause of the disengagement.
During the era in which these stories were written, marriages were an economic arrangement which had very little to do with love. In both stories, the couples seem to have an ideal marriage, which eventually turns to aloofness. This could be that ending a marriage during this time was unheard of.
The protagonist in “The Yellow Wallpaper” suffers from mental illness, which can be read as postpartum depression. In “An Story of an Hour” Louise Mallard suffers from heart problems.
The couples share a certain amount of love for each other but the disconnection was stronger. The protagonist’s disconnection is evident because her husband treats her like a little girl instead of a wife when he takes her “ …in her arms and called [her] a blessed little goose” (p121). The Mallard’s disconnection is also evident because her husband’s “face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead” (p 15). This is not the emotion a wife wants to feel from her husband.
There is evidence of love between the Mallards when Louise “knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death” (p 15). She often didn’t love him but it didn’t matter to her now that she thought he was dead. The protagonist from the other story exclaims “Dear John! He loves me very dearly… “ (p123).
She proclaims her husbands love throughout the story, I feel, in an attempt to bind the disconnection she feels with her husband.
Emotional detachment can border on emotional abuse. The dominant spouse will use this to isolate their spouse from family and friends. They will decide whom their spouses will see, where he/she can go and what type of guests he/she can receive. This rings true in “The Yellow Wallpaper.
” The protagonist wants to visit her cousin but her husband “…said [she] wasn’t able to go, nor able to stand it after [she] got there” (p 123). Yet he had family visit them over the Fourth of July holiday.
The controlling spouse usually makes major decisions, such as where to live and how to furnish the home. The protagonist wants to take another room “but John would not hear of it” (p 119). He didn’t understand or chose to ignore the fact that the wallpaper was affecting her mental state.
It can also be used to discourage the spouse from pursuing independent activities. The protagonist wants to write but her husband “hates to have (her) write a word” (p 120). As Louise Mallard “saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (p 15), she felt there was a chance for her to pursue her dreams after her husband’s death.
The victim tends live in the moment, unable to plan ahead because they fear the spouse’s response to any plans or ideas you have. This rings true for Louise Mallard. With the thought of her husband being dead, she would be given a chance to be herself. She is able to feel her own feelings at this moment and not be led by guilt because of them.
The victim also feels as if they don’t have the energy it would take to fight back against their spouses controlling behavior. You doubt your ability to stand-up and speak your own mind and express your own opinions. The fact that the protagonist cries before she can make a good case for herself is a sign of how discouraged she is at her physician husband’s behavior. Her husband seems to have taken on more of a “father” role because of her illness, which could be why he has taken on a deliberate attitude of avoiding engaging her emotions.
Spouses try to impose their will over the other by resorting to negative criticism. I get the sense that Brently Mallard was controlling because Louise, in learning of his death, felt “there would be no powerful will bending hers, in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature” (p15).
The husbands find their wife’s illnesses overly demanding. The fact that the husbands in both stories travel frequently although their wives were sick is a sign of how they deal with their wives poor health. Traveling may have allowed them a rational perspective to recognize the need to back away from the uncontrollable or unchangeable situation in their lives. Instead of physically leaving a relationship one or both spouses check out emotionally.
The emotional detachment is two-fold. The protagonist feel she is not being a good wife as it weighs on her that she cannot complete her wifely duties. She wants to be a help to him but she feels like a complete burden. The fact that Louise Mallard feels free as she learns of her husband’s death shows how her relationship with her husband was a dependent one.
It is a fact that emotional abuse is a common denominator in many marriages. However, most of the times both the abuser and the victim, are unaware of the fact that their marriage is marred by emotional abuse.
Emotional detachment is a type of mental assertiveness that allows people to keep their distance when faced with the emotional demands of another person. Emotional detachment comes in the form of various behaviors intended to batter the heart and soul of the victim to gain effective control over them.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” E Fictions. Eds. Joseph F. Trimmer et al.
Australia: Thomson 2002. 14-16
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” E Fictions. Eds. Joseph F. Trimmer
Et al. Australia: Thomson 2002. 118-129