There are a lot of things that people genuinely fear, but the most dreadful situation of all for any human being disregarding age, frame of mind and even gender is definitely the fear of loneliness – being a social animal, a man has cultivated the dominance of social standards and social structure for centuries and is now simply afraid of being completely isolated.
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It is the issue of loneliness and the slow descent into madness which brings the two famous novels, The Yellow Wallpaper and Everyday Use, together. Like any other two novels, these ones share a number of common and different elements, which makes them quite an intriguing object for a small research.
Indeed, if considering each story as a separate narration, it becomes obvious that each of the novels is shot through with the air of fear. While in The Yellow Wallpaper the terror paralyzes the lead character, who, symbolically enough, does not have the name in the novel.
However, taking a closer look, one can see distinctly that it is not only the fear of loneliness that keeps both stories so close together. In each novel, each character is entrapped into a kind of a “ghetto,” as Cowert (172) called it. However, while the character from The Yellow Wallpaper manages to escape it (Gilman), Wangero accepts her fate.
When speaking about the differences, one must mention first of all the specifics of genre of each novel. According to Davidson, The Yellow Wallpaper is a perfect Gothic story and a “nonpolitical horror tale” (48). Therefore, the story from the very start sends the reader into a somewhat gloomy and mysterious atmosphere. Everyday Use, on the contrary, offers a typical American setting with the most typical American background and without the tiniest speck of mystery, making the story a “central metaphor of American cultural identity” (Whitsitt 443).
Another significant element which makes the stories display their key features and, thus, make their main differences obvious, is the conflict within the short novels. Each of the stories offers a complicated social problem to solve, yet none makes the reader dwell on the same problem.
While in The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte touches upon the issue of feminism and women’s independence, the lack of which and lead to the most drastic results, in Everyday Use, the problem concerns the issues of self-identity and belonging, as Cowart explains: “The quilts that Wangero covets link her generation to prior generations, and thus they represent the larger African-American past” (172).
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As a matter of fact, this is where the key similarity between the stories also turns into a major difference: while in The Yellow Wallpaper, it was the protagonist who felt the loneliness, in Everyday Use (Walker), it is the passive Wangero, the mother, but not her daughter Dee, who is constantly in the limelight, the lead character.
Both depicting the horrendous idea of being left completely alone and having no one around is what makes the plot in both short stories keep moving and makes the characters develop throughout the stories. Both writers know what they want to tell the world, what the audience fears most and how to use it to deliver the important messages and hit the bulls’ eye. This is what makes both The Yellow Wallpaper and Everyday Use wring the readers’ hearts out – and the novels do, quite successfully, for several decades running.
Cowart, David n.d. Heritage and Deracination in Walker’s Everyday Use. PDF file.
Davidson, Carol M. “Haunted House/Haunted Heroine: Female Gothic Closets in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.” Women’s Studies 33 (2004): 47-75. Print.
Gilman, Charlotte P. n.d. The Yellow Wallpaper. PDF file.
Walker, Alice n.d. Everyday Use. PDF file.
Whitsitt, Sam. “In Spite of All: A Reading of Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’.” African American Review, 34.3 (2000): 443-459. Print.