In the nineteenth century, American society still thought that women should be submissive to their husbands, passive to men’s decisions, and their principal role should be housekeeping and children upbringing. Nevertheless, at the end of the nineteenth century the question of the new role of women appeared. Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin were the first female writers who touched upon the feminist approaches in the literature, defending the place of women in the society. Chopin’s Awakening and Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper shed the light on female feelings, thoughts, desires, and struggles. The following essay aims at comparing the similarities of two works as well as contrasting their differences.
The first thing to speak briefly about is biographies of the authors and historical backgrounds of their works. Both Kate Chopin (1850 – 1904) and Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860 – 1935) are of American origin. Moreover, both were pioneers of feminist movements and sustained strict critique of their literature and ideas. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a physician and literature teacher. She was a very independent woman, partly because of her complicated and poor childhood. When she got married to an artist, she had a persistent sensation that it was a wrong thing to do, and soon she divorced him, which was a very rare occasion in the 19th century. She fell into a deep post-natal depression after her only daughter was born. During this time, she wrote The Yellow Wallpaper (1892), which became her most famous work.
Meanwhile, Kate Chopin came from a wealthy family and successfully married a businessman at the age of twenty. She was married twice and both her husbands died and left her alone, which turned Chopin’s life into depression. In 1899, her novel Awakening was published. There, she uncovered her life views of social pressure on a woman, which made her the one to found feminism.
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Comparison of Similarities
To begin with, two literature works do not seem alike, but despite that, both contain many similar points. They include the scenes of actions, characters in their certain features, figures of men, motif of misunderstanding between men and women, inner tensions of the main female characters, and symbolic details. First, the main location of each story is a cottage house in the summertime. It is a locked space inside the rich nature, which becomes a symbol of social restrictions standing against the nature.
The central idea of both works is feminist colored. The main character of the novel Awakening, Mrs. Pontellier, admires her vacations in Lebrun’s house. The first chapter immediately evokes the anxiety within the reader, as the birds cry "Allez vous-en!” (Chopin 1). The anxiety develops when Mrs. Pontellier cries for no visible reason, “She could not have told why she was crying. Such experiences as the foregoing were not uncommon in her married life. They seemed never before to have weighed much against the abundance of her husband's kindness and a uniform devotion which had come to be tacit and self-understood. […] It was strange and unfamiliar; it was a mood. She did not sit there inwardly upbraiding her husband, lamenting at Fate, which had directed her footsteps to the path which they had taken. She was just having a good cry all to herself” (Chopin 1).
This extract uncovers important allusion to what was going to happen, as well as the resonance of the title of the novel. The reader understands that this woman is unhappy in her marriage because of her husband’s absence, which developed into the “awakening” of her self-perception, awareness of her mind and sexuality.
One may notice the similar anxiety of the heroine of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman . “Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it [house]” (Gilman). In this short story, the events develop from the moment of “disease”, the depression, the reason for which is husband’s entire absence, like in the Chopin’s work. Soon, readers understand that the real problem is deeper. In both cases, it is the opposition of these women to the social standards and their husbands, as the embodiments of these restrictions.
Moreover, each story has a similar open ending, which means that the real-life women’s struggle for social independence is not over either with the triumph or with the failure; therefore, it continues. "I've got out at last," – claims the heroine of The Yellow Wallpaper (Gilman); “Salve! ye dumb hearts. Let us be still and wait by the roadside” – comes at the end of the “Awakening” (Chopin).
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Contrasting of Differences
Speaking about the differences of the novels, the first thing to contrast is the genre and, as a result, many structure and plot elements. The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story with a small coverage of the time, namely a few weeks of summer, and only three characters, including Janie, the main heroine, and her husband. The important feature is the artistic details embodied in the wallpaper, which appear as a symbol of dissatisfaction with life and plays a central role in the story.
In contrast to The Yellow Wallpaper, Awakening is a novel, thus, it contains more characters and plot branches. In addition, Chopin’s work is full of dialogs. The author depicts her characters and events from aside, making her readers observers. On the contrary, Gilman’s story is a diary of a woman, who confesses and shares her fears, sublimating in the various descriptions of the room interior. The reader sees the room with the eyes of the heroine, so the impression and emotional perception of the short story are more affective.
Furthermore, the self-perception of the heroines is different as well. Awakening refers to the rational self-analysis, based on the thinking over character’s emotional conditions: “How many years have I slept?” she inquired. “The whole island seems changed. A new race of beings must have sprung up, leaving only you and me as past relics. How many ages ago did Madame Antoine and Tonie die? And when did our people from Grand Isle disappear from the earth?” (Chopin 8). The heroine of The Yellow Wallpaper has no name, which wipes her personality, especially when she becomes haunted with the reflections of creeping women, leaving only pure resistance of all the females against the social frames: “I don't like to look out of the windows even—there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?” (Gilman).
The condition of The Yellow Wallpaper heroine is much more complicated, as it is a concentration of feelings and surreal unconsciousvisions. The awakening of this woman is symbolic and reflects on the peeling of the wallpapers. On the contrary, the awakening of Mrs. Pontellier goes along with the adultery, love affairs, and different points of view, influencing her in the face of Mademoiselle Reisz, who is her favourite and Adele Ratignole, who is an opposite character of a good caring wife and loving mother. These characters appear to be controversies inside the author’s beliefs and thoughts, as they show the problem on the broader scale. In addition, there is a conclusion of all the events pronounced by Edna: The years that are gone seem like dreams—if one might go on sleeping and dreaming—but to wake up and find—oh! well! Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.” (Chopin 38)
The Yellow Wallpaper lacks such a moral, it only shows the woman, who fights off the problem, which bothers her, and it is only her first step to contradict her husband and the whole society: “And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!" Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!” (Gilman). She overcomes her fear, but the open ending means that she is only going to act.
In conclusion, the main ideas of the novel Awakening and the short story The Yellow Wallpaper are similar in their reference to the feminist fulfillment. The same opposition of women to the social restrictions, the pressure of their husbands, their dependence, and other stereotypes appear in each work. Both heroines fight against these standards, but they do it in different ways. The way Edna opposes is natural and rational. The way it happens in The Yellow Paper is symbolic and emotional. Furthermore, the difference between the works refers to the genres, as one is a novel and another is a short story. This difference dictates other ones, including character system and the way of narration – the first person story in the case of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and the third person narrative in the case of Kate Chopin. In addition, the plot of the novel is more complicated and covers more time, than the plot of the short story. Finally, Edna comes to a moral conclusion based on her life, which is it better to wake up than sleep the whole life. To the contrary, Gilman’s heroine only begins her way of opposition.