According to Elaine Showalter, madness gives women an excuse for expressing anger and hostility. Madness can give women the courage to stand up for themselves in a patriarchal society. Patriarchal is an adjective that describes an area where men have authority and power over women.
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A patriarchal society consists of men having power over women in society in general as well as in relationships. The word mad can describe a person who is severely mentally ill or out of their minds. Many situations can cause someone to go mad or insane such as isolation, obsession, or loss of control. Although these two short stories have multiple similarities and differences, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner both explore the idea of women losing themselves to madness caused by the patriarchal society. The pressure of the patriarchal society drives them to isolation, obsession, and then eventually madness.
The Yellow Wallpaper, published in 1892, is the story of a woman whose husband forces her into isolation because he tells her she is sick. Throughout the story, the narrator informs the reader that she is not sick, but by the end of the story, she does become mentally ill. Her madness occurs after the isolation her husband forces her into causes her to become obsessed with the wallpaper. Her husband’s control over her life also causes her to become obsessed with breaking free from the power he has over her life. Her obsessions cause her to lose herself to madness as she begins to see things that are not real.
The Yellow Wallpaper shows the reader that the narrator goes mad because of her isolation. Her isolation from the world causes her to become obsessed with the wallpaper that she is surrounded by. Because her husband is convinced that she is sick, the narrator is forced to stay locked inside a house until she shows signs of improvement. The longer this goes on, the crazier she gets as she begins seeing things in the wallpaper. Throughout the story, John says things such as Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so? to convince her that he is right about her mental health when he is completely wrong (Gilman 474). His ability to manipulate her into thinking he is right about the so-called illness helps to cause the narrator’s madness. The way he manipulates her causes her to resent him, causing her to go mad out of frustration and anger. The way he treats the narrator makes her want to defeat him and the power he holds over her.
The narrator’s husband’s control over her life takes a very large toll on her sanity. When the narrator starts to lose her mind completely, she begins to believe the wallpaper moves because The woman behind shakes it! (Gilman 476). Since she stays in the room with the yellow wallpaper all day, she stares at it for a very long time, and this causes her to begin to hallucinate things moving and shaking inside of the paper. Her hallucinations of what is behind the paper is a sign of her going mad. She also becomes possessive of the wallpaper as if she does not want to share it with anyone else who is in the house which is the opposite of how she felt in the beginning. She hates how the wallpaper looks and makes her feel in the beginning. Her attachment to the paper shows how she is starting to go mad. The woman she sees inside of the wallpaperis herself, trying to break out of her life (Showalter 5). The version of herself she sees in the wallpaper wants to be free just like she does in her own life, but this version of herself is the crazier side of her or the side the reader sees when she fully goes mad. Her obsession with the wallpaper and the woman she sees inside of it drive her mad. By the end, the narrator has defeated him only by destroying herself (Showalter 5). She breaks the woman out of the wallpaper which is her just allowing the madness to fully consume her. By breaking free from her husband’s control, she has driven herself into a state of madness that is beyond repair.
While the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper goes insane because of her husband’s control of her life, A Rose for Emily, published in 1930, shows how a father’s rule can do similar damage. A Rose for Emily is about a woman whose father forces her into isolation because he does not believe anyone is worthy enough to be in his daughter’s life. Her father dies, leaving her all alone with no one to care for her or make decisions for her and her future. His control over her life causes a lot of damage as she does not have anyone else in her life to take care of her after he passes away. Her father’s death causes her to become obsessed with finding someone to fill the hole her father left, so she will not be alone anymore.
In A Rose for Emily, Emily’s madness is caused by her father controlling who she allowed into her life. The creation of her madness starts long before her father’s death, but his passing causes things to completely spiral for her. The town all knew about the young men her father had driven away (Faulkner 32). Emily’s father believed that all the potential suitors who came into her life were not worthy enough for her. No one lived up to his expectations of who Emily needed in her life, so when her father was alive, he was the only person who was really in Emily’s life because he pushed everyone else away from her. The isolation from the rest of the world that she experienced did not prepare her for life after her father’s death. After he died, Emily went out very little (Faulkner 31). Emily’s past and present isolation from the rest of the world causes her to become obsessed with the idea of not being alone anymore. She starts to hate the idea of not being alone anymore so much that she goes to extreme lengths to keep someone trapped in her life.
Because her father controlled and provided for her, Emily does not know how to handle life without him. She has never lived life without someone making every decision for her future. When Homer Barron came into her life, she did not want him to leave her. She could not handle the thought of being alone anymore. She physically wanted someone in her life that would never leave her side. When she died, town members went inside her house and found that The man himself lay in the bed (Faulkner 35). Emily became so obsessed with not wanting to be alone that the obsession drove her to kill Homer. When she killed Homer, there was no way for him to be driven away like all the other potential suitors her father drove off. She kept his body hidden inside her house, so she would not be left by herself again. Emily’s obsession with not being left alone drove her so crazy that she ended up murdering someone to keep them trapped in her world.
The Yellow Wallpaper and A Rose for Emily have a few similarities. Both stories are about women who suffered from isolation and obsession that caused madness. They also share the fact that their insanity is caused by the control the patriarchal society has over their lives. Both stories are set in a time where men still had a lot of authority and say over women’s lives, futures, and decisions. Both stories end with the women losing their minds because of the anger, frustration, and resentment they kept built up inside for the men in their lives that held them under their control.
Although The Yellow Wallpaper and A Rose for Emily share similarities, they are also still very different from each other. In the first story, the narrator is forced into isolation by her husband who is a doctor. In the second story, Emily is isolated by her father who does not believe any man is good enough to be her husband. Although both stories take place in times where women are still controlled by men, they were written almost forty years apart as The Yellow Wallpaper was written in 1890 and A Rose for Emily was written in 1929. In The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator becomes obsessed with the yellow paper as well as the hallucinations of the different version of herself she is seeing within the wallpaper. In A Rose for Emily, Emily becomes obsessed with the idea of not being alone. The narrator obsesses over breaking free so much that it drives her insane, and she rips off the wallpaper to free the crazy version of herself. Emily is driven so insane by her obsession of not being alone that she kills her potential suitor, so he cannot decide to leave her all alone. The narrator’s obsession with the wallpaper just drove her to break free. However, Emily’s obsession with not being lonely in her life anymore drove her to murder.
The Yellow Wallpaper and A Rose for Emily both tell stories of women who go mad because of the patriarchal society, but the ways they go mad are slightly different. Patriarchal describes a situation where men hold power over women. In both main characters’ cases, their madness is caused by isolation and obsession. These stories have many similarities such as the fact that men keep them isolated from the rest of the world, and both stories happen in times where men could control women’s lives. However, they also have their differences. Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper in 1890 while Faulkner wrote A Rose for Emily in 1929. The narrator becomes obsessed with the wallpaper while Emily becomes obsessed with not being alone in life. The narrator’s obsession with being free from her husband’s control causes her to go mad and defeat her husband. Emily’s obsession with not wanting to be alone causes her to go crazy and kill Homer. The stories relate to each other in very many ways, but it is very clear that there are a lot more differences than similarities.
Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. Literature: Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gloria. Pearson Longman. 30-36. Print.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gloria. Pearson Longman. 468-478.
Showalter, Elaine. Killing the Angel in the House: The Autonomy of Women Writers. The Antioch Review 50. 50th Anniversary (1992): 208-220. JSTOR. Web. 9 Dec. 2018.
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