This essay will compare and contrast two classic American short stories. The comparison will take the point-by-point approach where one idea will be discussed fully before moving on to the next idea. The two stories that will be analyzed are “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which was published in 1892, and “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin, which was published in 1984. Gilman narrates the story of a couple that moves to an old mansion for a few months after the wife falls into depression following childbirth (Gilman, 12).
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On the other hand, Chopin focuses on events that occurred one hour after a woman was informed that her husband had died. The essay will compare and contrast “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story of an Hour” showing how the two narrators draw similarities from culture and the treatment of women during that time while setting differences based on their personal biases.
First, as mentioned, both pieces of writing are short stories. One can define a short story as less elaborate writing that can be read in one sitting. There are two things that make the structure of the stories important in this discussion. The first is the argument that there were very few female writers in the 18th century. Mugambi explains that despite efforts to be recognized as equals, women’s roles were still related to household chores and reproduction (124).
Indeed, the two women did not have much time to focus on their writing. On the same note, one can state that their target audience (women) at the time did not have much time to read longer and more complex stories. Further, due to the cultural expectations of women and their place in society, the writers were using normal life events to tell their stories. The two stories might have been a combination of individual stories the writers knew about.
One of the things that come out clearly in the two short stories is the treatment of women by society. Gilman’s writing mainly refers to the husband, John, as the decision-maker in the family. He is the one who comes up with the idea that moving away from their normal home might help his wife get better. Additionally, John makes his sister, Jane, tend to his wife without a thought about her needs. She has literally removed from her daily routine to serve as a house help to the family. On the same note, Chopin narrates that the death of Louise’s husband lifts a burden she had been carrying for years (Chopin, 310).
Her relief towards his death suggests that she had been in an unhappy marriage. Her reaction was, however, deemed inappropriate and mean by society. Mugambi argues that in the late 1800s, women still did not have the right to air their grievances (125). The two stories prove this through the decision-making standpoint in Gilman’s writing and the negative perception of Louise’s reaction to her husband’s death.
Additionally, the stories are similar in their depiction of the male characters. One can state that both men lack understanding. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, John, the husband believes that some sun will make his wife feel better. However, this ends badly with the wife going completely insane after her post-partum depression. On the same note, in “The Story of an Hour”, the husband is depicted to have been rude and unbearable. This is the reason the woman was relieved when he died. Overall, it communicates the role of society in dictating how women should react.
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As initially stated, despite the similarities discussed, the two short stories are also very different. The first difference one picks out is the general character of the men. One can argue that even though both men had shortcomings, John, in Gilman’s story, appears to care for his wife (Gilman, 15). He is determined to make his wife feel better after the birth of their child. He even agrees to change his normal routine and move houses until his wife feels better. Chopin’s story, however, does not give a soft side to the male character (Chopin, 308). Since the story is told through his disgruntled widow, one can only assume that he was not a good husband.
Secondly, the two stories differ in regards to levels of oppression experienced by the women. The woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” does not seem stressed or oppressed by her husband or society. This might be due to the fact that she is already suffering from post-partum depression. However, Louise in “The Story of an Hour” is oppressed and this comes out clearly through her reaction to her husband’s death. Whereas “normally” a spouse’s death is sad and heartbreaking, it was relieving for Louise. In fact, she considers herself to be free after his death. She interacts with people better and sees the world in a different light.
It is important to note that the relationship between two women is highlighted in “The Yellow Wallpaper” but not in “The Story of an Hour”. Jane, John’s sister is present when his wife becomes depressed. She becomes a caregiver to her sister-in-law. It is interesting to note that she has some tense moments with her brother over the health of his wife. John believes that since he is a physician, he knows more about his wife’s health than his sister. Interestingly, the main character in the story believes that John and his sister are working together to trap her. This depiction shows the complex relationship between women as depicted by Charlotte. Indeed, whereas Charlotte felt the importance of adding content on the relationship between women, Gilman did not and this can be attributed to their individual biases as writers.
In conclusion, the two short stories, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Story on an Hour” by Kate Chopin has both similarities and differences. The similarities can be tied to the culture and societal expectations during that era. However, the differences are writer-based, meaning that they are based on the biases of the individual writers. Both stories are impactful in describing how women were treated and perceived in the late 1800s.
Also, both suggest that men in the same era were controlling and would not appreciate their spouses. On the other hand, a key difference between the two stories is the fact that one man is also described as loving due to his ability to care for his wife. The other man, in the “The Story of an Hour,” is not killed off before the reader can get his side of the story.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, 10th ed., edited by Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays, W. W. Norton, 2011, pp. 308-315.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader: The Yellow Wallpaper, and Other Fiction. Pantheon Books, 1980.
Mugambi, Jouet. Exceptional America: What Divides Americans from the World and from Each Other. University of California Press, 2017.