Feminist Friday: CPG & KC Feminist Suicide Squad

Friday, April 14th 2017

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Kate Chopin Feminist Struggle


Charlotte Perkins Gilman  and Kate Chopin were creative feminist writers that were ahead of their time while still inspiring generations of writers for generations to come. From the very moment Gilman originally published “The Yellow Wallpaper” in the “New England” Magazine” in 1892,  readers continue to find its tale haunting while critics find its message powerful. Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” has made such an impact that in 1991 the short story became a motion picture titled Grand Isle. The struggle of Edna Pontellier, the protagonist attempting to find independence and solitude in realm where the traditional expectations of women in the late 1800s, gave women no mention of individuality or independences. As America economics moved towards a booming industrial era, more professionals and career driven member of societies being single, and the infant death rate increased, society held onto its traditional family values in the 1800s. The economical change in America placed more expectations of a ‘traditional coupled’ with gender assigned limitations for females. Society claimed that both Charlotte Perkins Gilman  and Kate Chopin both documented in their short story the struggles that female had to endure living in a male dominated world. Kate Chopin’s  “The Awakening”  and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” are examples of the male dominated 19th century impact on protagonist females of American Literature.

Photography Simson Petrol

An examination of the struggles of the female protagonists in the two works reveals a connecting thread,  “The Awakening” and “The Yellow Wallpaper”, its easy to see the connecting thread of how each protagonist struggled to find their own individuality through the shackling expectations crafted the male dominated social class, and gender roles assigned to them through a male dominated Victorian era. Each short story tells a different conflict that woman had to endure through their marriage, as well as the explications from other women in their own social class to uphold the mental depriving roles of women. Just in the short story “The  Awakening”, there are several themes in  The Awakening  love, marriage, women’s femininity, society and class, repression and identity, yet the fundamental ideas explored in Chopin’s  “The Awakening” is the solitude that came with independence and the implications of self expression.

The moment Edna discovered a way to express herself it head to the revelation of her long repressed emotions, her ‘awakening.’ During the course of the her time in New Orleans Edna learns three new ‘languages’, she learnt the expressions of the Creole women on Grand Isle. Regardless of the chastity, the women speak freely and share their emotions openly. It’s the frankness of the Creole women in New Orleans that shocks Edna, since the social class of Edna’s position would not have her speaking so frankly to anyone yet in Edna’s eyes it’s refreshing and liberating.  It’s then that Edna learns how she can face her emotions, and sexuality directly without any type of forced fear from social restrictions. One of these days,” she said, ‘I’m going to pull myself together for a while and think-try to determine what character of a woman I am; for , candidly, I don’t know. By all the codes which

I am acquainted with, I am devilishly wicked specimen of the sex. By some way I can’t convince myself that I am. I must think about it (Chopin).

Jason Blackeye Photography

It’s this encounter with the Creole women that causes Edna to understand that society has condemned her as being only a terrible woman through the eyes of society.  Molly J. Hildebrand speaks about the usage of gender in Kate Chopin’sThe Awakening” in her article The Masculine Sea: Gender, Art, and Suicide in Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening.” Hildebrand mentions how Edna gender identity allows her to briefly relinquish her on what masculine privilege is by engaging in relationships with an older woman, one noticeable character is Adèle Ratignoll. The bond between these two fictional characters affirm the validity of feminist aesthetics, value unity, connect, and collaboration. However if Edna does oscillates herself she does not focus the 19th century value of race nor class distinctions, even though Edna is an upper white class women.

 Edna is a white upper class woman who is seeking the same freedom that the society she lives in gives to the white upper class men. Unfortunately she being a woman is denied those fundamental desires because of her the social system of her world.“Edna’s recognition that a white, upper middle-class male model of complete freedom will remain unavailable to her prompts her unpremeditated suicide. (Hildebrand)

Gliman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” the female protagonist also suffers from the subordination from marriage along with the evils of Dr. S. Weir Mitchell’s ‘rest-‘cure’.

Gilman used “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a platform to argue against the expectation for women to be subordinate in a ‘respectable’ marriage at her time and life style. “The Yellow Wallpaper” drew its powerful message of women’s suffrage through the nineteenth century from the authors own experiences. The 19th century brought many new inventions, many becoming the foundation of the  technology of the  used today, however with new inventions and theories also miss diagnosis through the advancement of medicines as Alan Brown wrote in the article entitled The Yellow Wallpaper: Another Diagnosis, speaks about how Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s experiences with Dr. S. Weir Mitchell connect to the structure to the protagonist in The Yellow Wallpaper.  Gilman published an essay entitled The Forerunner: Why I wrote the Wallpaper, speaking about her struggle from depression for three years while deciding to see the most famous American neurologist of the time Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, in contrast Charlotte Perkins Gilman tells a different story about “This wise man and the applied the reset cure…”(Gilman).

Freestocks.org Photography

This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, to which a still-good physique responded so promptly that he concluded that there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to ‘live as domestic a life as far as possible, to ‘have but two hours’ intellectual life a day,’ and ‘never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again’ as long as I lived. This was 1887. I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over. Then using the remnants of intelligence that remained, and helped by a wise fried, I cast the noted specialist’s advice to the winds and went to work again—work, the normal life of every human being; work, in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite—ultimately recovering some measure of power (Gilman).

It’s no surprise that Gilman’s narrator would have a similar experiences of having both her husband and her brother, both being male characters, as well as male professional determine the best course of action for her health. 19th century women trusted blindly to advice given by male professionals of dominated by male figures in their family, unfortunately the narrator of  The Yellow Wallpaper” is an example of that mental mindset of women in this century.

If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression–a slight hysterical tendency–what is one to do?

My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing.

So I take phosphates or phosphites–whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again.  (Gilman)

It’s mainly do to them being men and considered professionals that determined the authority of their decision, it’s the power of determining a terrible woman’s health without observing the true dangers of this treatment. Alan Brown writes in his article entitled “‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: Another Diagnosis,” that the true diagnosis of the narrator is not just postpartum depression but pareidolia, para being the Greek word wrong, and eidolon meaning image, thus meaning finding faces and shapes in objects. Pareidolia affects people differently, the great Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci even wrote about paraeidolia as an artistic advantage.

If you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene, you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see diverse combats and figures in quick movement and strange expressions of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number that with my imaginative power and habit of story- making, a nervous web of things which you can then reduce into separate and well- conceived forms (Read).

That is to say the narrator of theThe Yellow Wallpaper” similar to “The Awakening” were both artist attempting to express themselves artistically in an era that a woman’s only fulfillment of her domestic roles. Edna in  The Awakening is a painter, she needs to pain to find her own individual identity, found after living in Grand Isle, New Orleans while the narrator of narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” similar to her author, are truly a writer. The husband of the narrator realizes that his wife has more of an imagination at her disposal than he does, and tries to force her to think more scientistic-rational-clear-minded, rather than artistically claiming her creative imagination is nothing more than a weakness.“He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try” (Gilman 62).  The social impact that a married man had the professional integrity as well as the moral confidences during the nineteenth century to physically suppress a woman’s talent because it would undermine him as the male figure in the home is the subornation in marriage that Gilman successfully showcased in “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” are historical examples through American Literature of the difficult lifestyle women had through male rules and opinion during the nineteenth century. “The Awakening” has the most historical impact between the two texts, while the  Gilman’s protagonist was heavily influences by the male dominated opinion on the medical professional while Chopin’s protagonist Edna Pontellier being molded by the strong forces that attempted to change her, society and nature. Leonce and the social structure of the society in that century putting shackles on Edna’s gypsy soul. The shackles represented a clear message society to Edna. Tend the house. Be subservient. Adore you’re children. Keep up appearance. More painful than having invisible shackles of society’s expectation were Raoul and Etienne who imprisoned her body, constantly reminding her the torture of childbirth that nature demanded of her. The loving bond between mother and child continue to  present itself in Edna’s life, regardless of her struggle to find individuality, and identity, however the drive to free herself from the male dominated society that won’t allow her to be her true self lead her to find freedom from society expectation upon gender roles through suicide. The life that the character Edna is a commentary of the historical circumstances that inspired the fictional life she lived, but is another  example of feminist writing in American literature as well as  an example of the continued struggle for equality for women today.

Samuel Zeller Photography

The life of Charlotte Perkins Gilman is best known for her passion was the concern of political inequality along with social justice experienced in general living, the primary focus of she wrote about was the unequally status women faced within the institution of marriage. Today, Gilman is primarily known for her short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, which was considered a Gothic novella but was truly a warning to other women’s about the effects of the ‘rest-cure’ developed by credited Dr. S. Weir Mitchell in creating nervous disorders and depression in women. In its time “The Yellow Wallpaper” was considered almost shocking and unnerved readers, even to this day. The short draws its strength from Gilman’s own painful episode in dealing with depression. Gliman’s short story  “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a constant presences of the power of a female narrator in American’s literature, in addition to showcasing how the social structure of a nineteenth century marriage did not give women their own power to decide their own medical treatments without the acceptances of their husband. Both  female protagonists in both Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper are victims of a male-dominated society.

Ryan Moreno Photography

Work Cited

HILDEBRAND, MOLLY J. “The Masculine Sea: Gender, Art, And Suicide In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.” American Literary Realism 48.3 (2016): 189-208. America: History & Life. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Brown, Alan. “‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: Another Diagnosis.” POMPA: Publications Of The Mississippi Philological Association 31.(2014): 61-69. Humanities International Complete. Web. 12

Quawas, Rula. “A New Woman’s Journey into Insanity: Descent nnd Return In The Yellow Wallpaper.” AUMLA: Journal Of The Australasian University Of Modern Language Association 105 (2006): 35-53. Humanities International Complete. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

St. Jean, Shawn. “Hanging ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’: Feminism And Textual Studies.” Feminist Studies 28.2 (2002): 397. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

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