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Depression in Feminist Literature of the 1890s

In literature, there are many cases when two literary works are similar in their theme and message. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892) and “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin (1894) are examples of American feminist literature revolving around women with certain mental conditions. In both stories, the female protagonists suffer from depression and are exhausted by their inner turmoil caused by marriage limitations and gender biases. The aim of the work is to analyze the cause of their sickness, which is their inability to express themselves and the pitiful place of a female in the society of that time.

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Even though the characters’ emotional exhaustion is caused by the same feelings, their stories are different in how the major themes are presented. In Gilman’s story, the narrator is locked in a room with yellow wallpaper as a result of her postpartum “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency.” The unnamed woman is not allowed to work; she creeps around the room, starving for writing and socializing. Unable to find and express her own self, she rubs the wallpaper to free the imaginary woman behind it. Therefore, the cause of her distress is that she is trapped alone with her suppressed emotions, abandoned by her husband and other people.

The second story centers around Louise Mallard, who learns about her husband’s death. Even though the woman reacts with seemingly genuine grief, it is later revealed that her tears are the tears of joy. “She said it over and over under the breath: “free, free, free!” writes Chopin, showing that Louise’s husband’s death opened a world of opportunities for her. The sad irony of the story is that when the woman sees her husband, who actually survived, she dies from “the joy that kills,” according to the doctors’ words. To sum up, it is obvious that the lack of freedom and the limitations imposed by her marriage is what led the woman to her mental condition.

As it is possible to see, the stories reflect the mental health consequences of women’s oppression. Both characters appear to be confined: Louise is limited by her marriage, while Gilman’s unnamed character is literally a prisoner of the room with yellow wallpaper, her relationship, and her madness. Both women feel alienated from society: the way they are treated in the stories show their insignificance in the world dominated by men. Indeed, feminist literature mostly aims to demonstrate the women’s need for freedom in career, sexuality, self-expression, as well as economic and political choices. Moreover, other characters’ attitudes to these women and their mental health contribute to the feminist issues of that time. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the way to treat the suffering woman was keeping her isolated, and in “The Story of an Hour,” Louise was not considered strong enough to learn about her husband’s death. For both of them, marriage is only the rule dictated by the conservative society. Consequently, their dependency on their husbands, helplessness, and confusion lead to severe emotional suffering.

The analysis proves that there are several causes of women’s mental distress: the obvious lack of freedom in their marriage and the overall place of women in society. As a result, their sickness was caused by the combination of people’s attitudes and common gender roles. Their inability to make their own choices and the society’s indifference to their feelings led to their inner pain and devastating depression, showing how much limitations and pressure may influence a woman.

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"Depression in Feminist Literature of the 1890s." StudyCorgi, 31 Dec. 2021, studycorgi.com/depression-in-feminist-literature-of-the-1890s/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Depression in Feminist Literature of the 1890s." December 31, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/depression-in-feminist-literature-of-the-1890s/.


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StudyCorgi. "Depression in Feminist Literature of the 1890s." December 31, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/depression-in-feminist-literature-of-the-1890s/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Depression in Feminist Literature of the 1890s." December 31, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/depression-in-feminist-literature-of-the-1890s/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Depression in Feminist Literature of the 1890s'. 31 December.

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