The stories under analysis are A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman. These two stories center around the lives of two women, Emily and Jane, who, being not able to resist reality and the attitude of society, became mad. Additionally, some thoughts about the space and its influence on women are also introduced. The theme of relations between man and woman are also touched. These stories introduce the same problems and use space as a symbol to suggest that the madness of the two main female characters came as a result of the confining masculine imposition by the members of their family.
There is no use denying the fact that both these stories are devoted to the description of the life of woman in society which considers men to be the main power. This idea can be clearly seen in the story A Rose for Emily. The old woman Miss Emily Grierson is obviously the main character of the story. Though, the author underlines the fact that her current status is the result of her fathers life and actions. She does not pay taxes because she belongs to respected family and after her fathers death she is explained that her “father had loaned money to the town, which the town, as a matter of business, preferred this way of repaying” (Faulkner, 1930, para. 3). It is the lie, created by Colonel Sartoris to support her, though she believes it. This episode shows a reader that her status in society is not determined by her actions, though by her belonging to a noble man. This fact to a large extent predetermines her further life.
Belonging to a noble family, Emily Grierson has no choice but to try to meet expectations of society living the same life as her father lived and remaining in the house which “was all that was left to her” (Faulkner, 1930, para. 27) after her fathers death. That is why, this very house becomes the main symbol of the story. The house is not like the rest of buildings in the street. It is described as “lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps-an eyesore among eyesores” (Faulkner, 1930, para. 2). The example of personification can be seen here in this phrase.which is used to make a reader think about its significance and serve to attract readers attention to the image of house.
With this in mind, it is possible to say that being the place where Emily spends the bigger part of her life, the house can be taken as the embodiment of her madness and the symbol of the whole life of the woman, representing mental illness and death. Additionally, having read the story, it is possible to understand that confined space of this house results in Emilys madness. Being closed in it, she had to see the same walls day by day, not being able to change her surroundings. She becomes older and her appearance alters. However, she has the same servants and the same environment, though nothing changes. It is obvious, that confined space can make mad even a normal person, however Emily already has some problems. She is raised with the idea of dominance of men and that is why she is not able to change something by herself. The house underlines this uncertainty and her disability, reminding Emily again and again that she is closed here and she has no other choice. It is difficult to say what kind of feelings she has towards Homer Barron, though, his death obviously makes her state worse. Nevertheless, she still does not have enough will and power to abandon this house, turning it into a crypt where her husband and hopes are buried.
The author also uses a great number of stylistic devices to underline some hidden meaning of the story. Faulkner uses metaphor “fallen monument” (1930, para.1) to describe the main character at the beginning of the story and to show readers the character of the heroine. Additionally, describing Emily, Faulkner also uses similes such as “Her eyes,…, looked like two small pieces of coal” (Faulkner, 1930, para. 6). Figurative language is often used in the story. Describing a cemetery the author uses the phrase “cedar-bemused” (Faulkner, 1930, para. 2) which can be taken as personification because some object is given human attributes. It becomes obvious that the author uses these devices to create more lively atmosphere and image of the main heroine.
The story Yellow Wallpaper obviously uses similar motifs to underline the womans dependence and show its negative aftermath. The story is presented from the point of view of a woman called Jane who devolves in madness. It also shows the influence of uncensorious attitude of men towards women and their disability to understand womens desires. At the first gaze, Jane seems to be quite happy. She has a child and a good husband which cares about her. Jane repeats several times that he is a loving husband who worries about her health. Though, at the same time she says “John laughs at me” (Gilman, 1892, para. 5), “he does not believe I am sick” (Gilman, 1892, para. 8) and even “I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes” (Gilman, 1892, para. 26). These phrases underline the fact that there is no understanding between the partners. Additionally, there are several variants of the first phrase. Dock, states that in some variants of the book this phrase sounds like “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that” (1998, p. 7, para. 3). The author shows that it was quite common thing in those times and, that is why John takes his wife just as a light minded woman who does not know what she wants and who suffers from post natal depression. He always knows what is better for her and he is not able to imagine that she can be right and that she can really suffer from something. However, it should be said that he thinks and acts in this way not because he does not love his wife or he just ignores her, though, it was quite usual attitude towards a woman in this period of time. That is why, Jane is also sure that he loves her. However, her madness progresses to a large extent due to her husbands attitude.
Nevertheless, Charlotte Gilman also uses the confined space of the house to underline madness of the main character. The house is described as “colonial mansion, a hereditary estate” (Gilman, 1892, para. 2). Being rather old, it also has the signs of its previous owners. However, the most scaring for the main character is the room upstairs, where she has to live. The title The Yellow Wallpaper shows a reader one of the main reasons of Janes obsession. She cannot ignore it as the wallpaper seems alive for Jane. She likes everything it this house except the wall paper, saying that “It dwells in my mind so” (Gilman, 1892, para. 99). Additionally, at first it seems “unclean yellow” (Gilman, 1892, para. 41) and disgusting. However, the author shows all stages of the development of madness of the main character, also outlining the difference in her attitude towards this room and the wall paper as at the end of the story the main character likes it, staring at it, investigating its shape and trying to remain face to face with it. Additionally, the author also shows attempts of the heroine to make her husband believe her and save her conscience, however, they are useless as John, being a physician, is sure that he knows better what is good for his wife. However, the house and the room with the yellow wallpaper are winners in the struggle for Janes mind. The room and the image of the wallpaper develop along with madness, obtaining new peculiarities and qualities. There is even a “yellow smell” (Gilman, 1892, para. 123) which fills the room. In psychiatry very often smell is taken as the symptom of some sever disease, that is why a reader can understand that the heroine becomes mad and her conscience is ruined by her husbands attitude and this house. It is obvious that this yellow wallpaper can be taken as the symbol of illness and madness of the heroine.
Additionally, confined space also plays an important role here. Like Emily in A Rose for Emily, Jane has to spent the majority of her time in a room which makes her excited and promotes her madness. Moreover, she also has to stay there under the influence of man. That is why, this room becomes a sort of prison where Jane has to struggle with her husbands ego and yellow wallpaper which makes her mad. Moreover, Gilman also uses a great number of stylistic devices in the story. There is a great number of enumerations like “and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise” (Gilman, 1892, para. 12) which are used to show the routine of the everyday life of the main heroine. Additionally, the manner of presentation from the first point of view also adds some personal attitude to the story. Moreover, antithesis is used in the story to show controversial character of the whole situation “I am afraid, but I don’t care” (Gilman, 1892, para. 23). Gilman, of course, also uses many personifications like “dead paper” (1892, para. 7), “destroy themselves” (1892, para. 34) to show development of madness of the main character and importance of the wallpaper as the symbol.
Having analyzed these stories, it is possible to make certain conclusions. It should be said that being different in the manner of presentation and setting, these stories, however, are devoted to the same issue. They both center around the madness of the main characters and the houses which serve as its embodiment and have another symbolic meaning. That is why Faulkner and Gilman devote much attention to the description of houses and their role in the life of their characters. These houses are the prison where women have to send the biggest part of their life. Being not able to resist their husbands and society, Emily and Jane have to obey. However, realizing their destiny and suffering from the lack of space both physically and morally, women become mad, feeling pain from the impossibility of changes.
Dock, J. (1998). Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and the History of Its Publication and Reception: A Critical Edition and Documentary Casebook. Pennsylvania: Pen State University Press.
Faulkner, W. (1930). A Rose for Emily. Web.
Gilman, C. (1892). The Yellow Wallpaper. Web.