Gender Issues in Literature

Gender Issues in Literature

One of the most specific peculiarities of the development of American culture in the 20th century was influence of the feminist movement. Women began to realize their state in society, and strove to change their position for better. This movement reflected on different spheres of cultural life of America, in particular, on literature. The 20th century was time when women began to write and defend their rights through their literary work. One of the first writers, who are considered being feminist writers of that time, was Kate Chopin. Although, “it was not an appropriate thing over hundred years ago for a lady to have her own ideas against the established ones” (Wan 167), her works were devoted to the fate of women in patriarchal society, women’s desire to become free, the first attempts to defend their rights, and depiction of free women, who managed to change their lives. Another famous writer of that time, who also devoted her works to women and their fate, was Charlotte Perkins Gilman. As well as Kate Chopin, she dedicated her works to women’s position in relation to men, women’s emotions, thoughts and feelings, and their desire to make their lives better. Both women were famous as writers of short stories. Certainly, as Kate Chopin and Charlotte Gilman wrote feministic literature, their works are full of gender issues, which are the central problem of their works. One can find evidence of this fact on the example of Kate Chopin’s short story The Story of an Hour, and Charlotte Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. Both stories depict fates of women on the way to their liberty through representation of gender issues on the example of relationships of the main heroines with their husbands.

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These short stories are more similar than different. The only thing, which is different, is the way of transferring of the main idea, in particular, different plots of each story. Kate Chopin represents the fate of a woman, who is on her way to liberty through the story from the third person about the fate of Mrs. Mallard. The story is about an accident, which changed life of the main heroine totally. Mrs. Mallard is told about her husband’s death. Certainly, as every normal person, she cries after the death of her husband, and leaves to her room in order to calm down. Sitting near the open window, exhausted by terrible news and her own tears, Mrs. Mallard looks through the window, feels that spring comes, that new life begins, and with fear and joy understands the fact that she became free. Happy with this understanding, she goes down the stairs, and suddenly hears that the door is opened by someone. As it turns out, her husband came home and he was alive; moreover, he knew nothing about railroad disaster, which became (as everybody thought) the reason of his death. The final scene of the story depicts death of Mrs. Mallard, who, as it is said in the story, died because of heart attack as she could not stand joy overwhelming her when she saw her husband alive.

The story of Charlotte Gilman describes fate of the main heroine of her story in another way. The protagonist of The Yellow Wallpaper has no name, and she tells her story by herself in the form of diary. The main heroine tells that she and her husband John came to live in mansion for summer, because her husband, who was a doctor, thought that it would be beneficial for her health. The problem of the protagonist is that she believes that she is ill, and her illness is of psychical nature. However, her husband, and her brother are sure that her illness is nothing, but her imagination. The main heroine describes her life in the mansion, and draws attention of readers to the room, where she lived with her husband, and to the yellow wallpaper, which irritated her, and prevented her from calm life in the mansion. During the whole story, the attitude of the protagonist to the wallpaper changes gradually. At the beginning of the story, she hated the wallpaper, and was afraid of it. However, at the end, she even liked it, and saw a woman, who lived in the wallpaper. The story ends when the main heroine decides to save the woman in the wallpaper, and peels off that wallpaper, goes mad, and starts creeping in the room, feeling free from everybody.

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The different plots of the short stories, as well as different personal writing styles of the writers make readers perceive the stories differently. On the one hand, Kate Chopin’s manner of writing is clear. However, the main idea of the story is veiled with irony, “When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease – of the joy that kills” (Chopin). It is confirmed that this line “is ironic, but it is even more ironic than has previously been surmised” (Berkove 157). It is evident that the main heroine died not because of happiness that her husband turned to be alive – she died, because she understood that she would never be happy, because life of her husband meant loss of her freedom. In contrast, the style of Charlotte Gilman is distinct. One should not look for additional details in the text in order to understand the protagonist’s attitude to her husband, and the fact that the woman in the wallpaper was the main heroine.

However, in spite of different plots and personal styles of the writers, the main thing remains the same – the topic of gender issues is central in these works. The main similarity of two stories is that gender issues are covered through representation of women’s attitudes to the men, and vice versa. It is evident that both protagonists are unhappy in marriage, “…the married woman of the period… became… a woman whose autonomy and identity were denied as she was regarded as her husband’s property. Under such circumstances, marriage signaled a figurative death for women” (Davison 55). If readers do not feel that Mrs. Mallard was suppressed by her husband, or he treated her in a bad way, the situation of the protagonist of The Yellow Wallpaper is worse, “The narrator is forbidden to engage in normal social conversation; her physical isolation is part designed to remove her from the possibility of over-stimulating intellectual discussion… Above all, she is forbidden to ‘work’ – to write” (Treichler 61). Such attitude to the main heroine of The Yellow Wallpaper made her “devoid of that identity that her husband (and his patriarchal society) had inscribed upon her” (Bak). Certainly, unhappy marriage and suppression on men’s side made both women miserable. Although they were good wives, and obeyed their husbands, they did not love them and dreamt about freedom.

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Two American feminist writers, Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, were among the first women, who defended own rights and the rights of other women with the help of literature. Their short stories The Story of an Hour and The Yellow Wallpaper describe attempts of women to gain freedom. Obviously, fates of the main heroines were intentionally depicted tragically in order to draw people’s attention to the problem of women in patriarchal society. The main emphasis in both stories was made on gender issues as the writers represented women’s struggle not with the whole society, but with separate men – the husbands of the protagonists. Such approach was used by the writers in order to point out the main reason of women’s unhappiness at those times, and try to make lives of women in patriarchal society better.

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