Hey all. I'm in the process of writing four term papers! Hah, yes, it sucks! Anyways, I've got one done, and one almost done... I'd like to post the one that is done for feedback, proof reading, etc. Please leave any comments with any constructive critisism. Thanks! :)
Oh yeah, and the rough draft he said had rough transitions, so I'm hoping I've addressed that, but if not please feel free to point it out. Thanks again!
The roles of women have changed throughout history, but perhaps never so drastically as during the 19th century. Literature from the times gives good insight as to the lives of women, how they lived and what was expected of them. Popular 19th century literature is full of advice about proper house keeping, the piousness of housework, as well as what a woman’s daily duties should be. Women were expected to keep their home clean, bake, provide three meals a day, mend clothing, raise children, and keep up gardens and farms, as well as keeping their homes presentable and pleasant to their husbands. These were only a few of the many duties and tasks assigned to the majority of women in the 19th century. Although it has been shown that the majority of women were very unhappy in this lifestyle, many were powerless to do anything about it. There were however some women writers who wrote about the different situations these women were faced with, in an attempt to bring on change, equality, and equal opportunities in all arenas.
The outcries of some of these women’s demands for education, equality, and opportunities outside the home were heard and even initiated changes, but few profited by this at first, as there was a great deal of sexist opposition and the changes were slow and ineffective as they began. This caused social confusion, uncertainty and conflict for women, as their roles were becoming less defined by sex, and more by status and class. Some examples of these newly inspired changes can be seen in William Dean Howells, “Editha” as well as in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Each of these works exposes the roles of their main characters, either Editha, or “Jane,” which happen to be on two opposite sides of these changes. One woman gains power and separation from the social stigmata’s, as the other falls victim to the male dominated oppressive society.
The role of Editha is one of authority and control. Editha, through her skillful manipulation, convinces her suitor George to join the Army, after which he is sent off to war. She has many personal and selfish reasons for wanting this, and because of them she very maliciously convinces George to abide by her wishes, without regard for what might happen to him. She finds herself with a certain amount of power over him, and sees what she might have to gain by this newfound power. It is apparent this is her evil intent (brainwashing and manipulation) when her mother pleas with her to be more giving and less drastic in her directions to George, and Editha replies, “I haven’t done anything-yet” (461). Obviously she has more up her sleeve than just innocently trying to convince George to join the Army. It was without regard and with bad intent that she manipulates him. This is further emphasized by Editha’s letter to George, in which she says, “…but the man I must marry must love his country first of all…” (461). obviously it is entirely possible for a man to love his country, and his wife equally, without running out and getting blown away in a war. She fails to succumb to this reality though, and becomes somewhat obsessed with the ideas of what his service will bring her socially, whether he is dead or alive.
This entire story reflects a struggle for power. Although Editha does not directly control George and cannot order or command anything from him, she uses her own means of gaining control. She knows that either through his death or through his heroic service she will gain social status and respect, having done nothing but taken advantage of him. She finds control in a day and age where women were not given many rights or choices, and she uses George’s social power as a man, indirectly, converting it into her own, and taking advantage of it. George ultimately dies in the war; a result of Editha’s scheming. Even when she gets what she wants, becoming a widow of a soldier, she is not satisfied. She is overwhelmed by self pity, and feels misunderstood. It is plainly obvious that she is not mourning the loss of George, but instead going through the motions to gain compassion from others. Nothing positive comes from her plan, her abuse, nor the end result of what she had mapped out from the beginning.
In Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the main character, “Jane” goes through a transformation. Repressed by modern society, she is at the mercy of her husband and those he would have tend to her. In this story we follow the progression of post-partum depression in a woman we only possibly know as “Jane”. Her husband John, who is a physician, prescribes her with “bed rest” in hopes that this will soothe her nerves and calm her away from her hysteria. As the story progresses and her madness intensifies, it is obvious that she has no rights or freedoms of her own. As a woman, she is deprived equality, referred to as John’s “Blessed little goose” (669), which is a prime example of the separation of husband and wife socially. Over the course of weeks and weeks, “Jane” is kept locked away, not by choice of her own, but by that of her husband who is in charge of her treatment without taking any input from her what so ever. “You know the place is doing you good” John says to “Jane,” despite her constant complaints and requests to be moved. “Jane” is constantly disregarded and neglected. John even goes so far as to keep her from writing in her journal, something she expresses a strong desire to do. She is obviously being controlled. “And I am alone a good deal just now,” (671) she says, referring to her isolation from society, civilization, socialization, and interaction with others.
From her confinement, our female character begins to become delusional and falls into a much deeper depression than when we are first introduced to her. We learn that “Jane” has developed two sides to her. She finds one hidden beneath the wallpaper, as if confined in a jail cell, and the other within her. It is a grand parody of sorts. The woman behind the wallpaper is trapped, and seems insane. “Jane” herself is also trapped and going insane. Sensory deprivation drives “Jane” from a typical depressed new mother into a psychotic delusional mental case. The prescribed treatment actually intensifies and exaggerates the effects of insanity on her. Had she been left “untreated,” she may very well have fared better than what being locked up and alone made her. John is actually the cause of her problems. It is plainly obvious that his relationship with her, however well intended, deteriorates over time, as “Jane’s” depression progresses. Rather than treating his wife like an equal, John instead refers to her using pet names, and continues to keep her submissive. His authority as a physician clouds his judgment and keeps him from realizing that his treatment is obviously doing more harm than good. He is so stuck on the fact that he is a doctor that he fails to see his wife as anything more than a patient. In the end, “Jane” goes completely insane. I believe the name Jane, which is only used once, was used by the “other side” of the woman we meet in the beginning of the story. It is the woman behind the wallpaper, the insanity within, that finally escapes taking over the real woman, thus calling her by her real name, Jane, in third person. The “normal” woman no longer exists, the insanity has taken control and I believe she has gone beyond recovery. This is the ultimate oppression. Perhaps, and likely, it is the treatment tactics themselves, the isolation and solitude that ultimately drive “Jane” mad.
Society has oppressed women in much the same ways that both “Jane” and “Editha” were oppressed. Although the 19th century proved greater and more lenient than previous time periods, it was still far from acceptable. Women were forced into subordinate roles from birth, left submissive to their male counterparts. Each author portrays different ways women dealt with this. Some actually went physically and mentally insane and psychotic, where as others learned to use their manipulation and cohesion techniques to climb the social latter and to get what or where they wanted. These were just two examples of how some women may have dealt with the oppression, either goung crazy, or learning to live with what was available. In either case, the women changed drastically. “Editha” turned into a heartless, cold, thoughtless person and “Jane” into a psychopath. Neither of the women was given equality and both were socially at the mercy of the men in their lives. After all, with equality and freedom, “Editha” could have joined the Army and made her own name for herself rather than relying on George. Perhaps “Jane” would have been able to get away from all of the environmental influences that drove her insane, maybe she didn’t even want to have the baby that she did, but was forced to because she was a “good wife.”
Society made each of the women crazy in their own ways. Most women were identical in that they also were in submissive societal roles, with no real way out. It was only through their suffering and struggles through the changes in their times that women have been able to attain the status’ they have today.