A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner, and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, were written during an era where women were seen as less important than men. In both of the stories, the main character is a woman who is experiencing loneliness and isolation because of the men that are in their lives. This results in women becoming emotionally and mentally ill. In A Rose for Emily, her isolation is due to the fact that her father does not want other men to see her, which causes Emily to fear being lonely and separating herself from her town. In The Yellow Wallpaper, Jane is isolated because she is experiencing postpartum depression and her husband believes that being isolated from any stimulus to the brain would help her out of her “sickness,” even though it actually causes her to go mentally insane. William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper deal with women who are mentally and emotionally ill as well as how they both share the concept of isolation. Altogether, this promotes the idea that women had no voice in the past and suffered in some way.
A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner starts with the death of Emily Grierson and how the whole town “mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant–a combined gardener and cook–had seen in at least ten years” (Faulker, 1) attended her funeral. This immediately shows how distant she was from society since nobody has seen her house in years making everyone curious about what it was like. Throughout the story, the narrator goes back and forth in time telling events that happened in Emily’s life. Through these flashbacks, we can see the isolation that Emily is put through because of her father and what she does about it. Emily’s father was a very controlling man who would drive away any man who showed interest in her, which ultimately left her still being single at the age of thirty. This was the primary reason for the isolation in her life, due to the absolute authority of a man. There is one specific instance where Emily is described as “a slender figure in white in the background” (Faulkner 3) while her father was, “clutching a horsewhip” (Faulkner 3) while two men were by the house. This supports the idea of how her father always took control of Emily and her relationships. When her father passed away, Emily was in denial that her father was not dead, and it was because she was holding on to the one thing she had in her life since her father chased everyone away and she had nobody left which began the true fear of loneliness in her life making her more isolated from society. Being the man closest to her, he had so much authority over Emily that it affected her for the rest of her life making her distant from society.
In A Rose for Emily, it captures many moments where the isolation caused by the authority from her father has affected her within her life. When she was left alone in her life, she began to realize how things were changing all around her from the houses that were near her to the laws in society. Emily’s disregard for the new laws and rules show how torn apart from the society she is. One huge example of this is when she goes to the drug store to buy poison even when the law requires a bound up reason to buy the poison; she stares at the druggist once and she gets the poison she uses for murdering Homer Barron. She was so out of place that when she bought the poison everyone thought she was going to kill herself since it was right around the time where Homer would not marry or be engaged to her. Her fear of being alone again took over, that it resulted in Emily killing Homer and keeping his corpse in her home. Another instance is when the tax representatives from the council come to visit her trying to get her to pay her taxes and Emily tells them off, indicating that her father had loaned the town with special reference to Colonel Sartoris, the former mayor. The former mayor though had passed on for more than ten years and since she didn’t know about a death that happened ten years ago, it solidifies how isolated she was. Emily seemed to be okay with that fact that she was so isolated since once Homer was killed she barely ever left the house and “when we next saw Miss Emily, she had grown fat and her hair was turning gray” (Faulkner 5). The whole root cause behind the solitude all results back to her father because when Emily finally had a young potential man in her life, he wanted to leave her which resulted in his death. She did not want to ever be alone so she kept the corpse laying next to it every night so she at least had someone there with her.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is comparatively similar in the fact that a man had the authority over a woman creating the isolation between her and society. The protagonist in the story, Jane, was suffering from postpartum depression and so her husband, who is a physician, believes that not being able to write or see any people will help her heal. At first Jane agrees with this but the seclusion eventually proves unbearable to her. Eventually she begins to believe that there is a woman in the wallpaper and she tells her husband that she wishes he would take her away (Gilman 652) because she believes that being in an old house is not helping her. Her husband takes the authority that he has and ensures her that she is getting better and needs to stay locked away from people. This drives Jane even more crazier, to the point where she believes that “the front pattern does move – and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!” (Gilman 654). Because of this, she starts peeling away all of the wallpaper just to get away from it all. In reality, the woman she is seeing is herself because she is being so smothered by her husband making her think that the woman is “all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern — it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.’ (Gilman 654). The pattern in reality is showing her she is trying to escape from her “cage” but her husband has so much control over her that it drives her insane being isolated and not allowed to do anything.
Throughout the present day society there are still factors that isolate people from society creating the loneliness in them and even possibly resulting in a mental health case similar to A Rose for Emily and The Yellow Wallpaper. In the article “The effects of loneliness and verbal aggressiveness on message interpretation” by Edwards et. al. it is stated that “loneliness involves psychological distress that takes the form of a painful yearning for social contact” (Edwards et.al, 140). In both of these cases all Jane and Emily want is social contact and not to be alone because of their forceful isolation. Society as we know it is currently all yearning for social contact and to be able to resume their everyday lives. Since the world is going through the COVID 19 pandemic we are told to social distance ourselves and only to leave our homes for essentials. Colleges and offices have gone entirely online, schools and restaurants are closed and nursing homes and hospitals are not allowing for visitors. In both The Yellow Wallpaper and A Rose for Emily we can see how being isolated resulted in psychological problems and currently in society “mental health experts are warning that losing everyday social connections comes with psychological costs” (Gupta). People in society today experience both short and long term health problems daily from things such as stress, insomnia, and emotional exhaustion. In the article they mentioned a study where it:
“compared quarantined versus non-quarantined individuals during an equine influenza outbreak. Of 2,760 quarantined people, 34 percent, or 938 individuals, reported high levels of psychological distress, which can indicate mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, during the outbreak compared with 12 percent of non-quarantined individuals” (Gupta).
This is similar to what society is going through right where states throughout the United States are quarantined, not just 2,760 people. Isolation and loneliness in society is something that will never go away which is clearly shown in the two stories written in the eighteen and nineteen hundreds.
Overall, the two short stories show how different people deal with social isolation and psychological stress which in this case were both caused by the authority of a man. Both Jane and Emily suffered in some sort of way because of the isolation caused within their life. William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily shows how physical isolation of a person can result in social alienation and fear of loneliness resulting in madness. In comparison, Charlotte Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper pays attention to the feelings of a person whose physical confinement turns Jane crazy and instead of helping her “sickness” makes her worse. Within these stories they depicted the life of women who were isolated and tucked away from society resulting in psychological problems which can still arise today.
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