In a male dominated society, husbands shun the dreams, hopes, and desires of their wives. Thus, a woman in such a society struggles to find her place in society. Elisa Allen, the wife in The Chrysanthemums, has an internal struggle to define her position in a society where there are definite gender roles. The Yellow Wallpaper follows a woman whose mental condition deteriorates from depression to madness, due to confinement in a room by her husband. Various factors hinder the women in both stories to express themselves fully. They both seem to live satisfactory lives but inward, they struggle with their roles in the male dominated society.
The Yellow Wallpaper is an autobiography of a woman in confinement in her summer home due to a psychotic problem. Her husband, who is also her doctor, prevents her from undertaking any active work before prior to full recovery from the condition. Unknown to him, the woman is keeping a secret diary where she describes her emotional and psychological feelings. However, the confinement makes her condition degenerate from depression to madness.
The Chrysanthemums is the story of a lonely woman known as Elisa Allen. She is passionate about chrysanthemums as they keep her busy. Her husband, is a farmer and seems to show little affection and attention towards her. Lack of affection from her husband makes her have sexual attractions towards a tinker. Elisa is intelligent, yet she seems to live an unfulfilling life due to various restrictions imposed on her by the society due to her sex.
The Chrysanthemums portrays a society that has not place for intelligent women. Elisa is energetic, smart, attractive, and ambitious. However, all her attributes go to waste, and she lives a life that is not appealing. The two men in the story, her husband and the tinker, are both less talented but have lives that are much more fulfilling than Elisa’s life. Henry operates the ranch, undertakes business deals, and supports his family. All Elisa can do is watch him as he performs his job. This is despite the fact that he is less intellectual ability than his wife. Henry speaks in patronizing terms and does not treat his wife as an equal partner. On the other hand, the tinker seems more intelligent than Henry but does not have a passion for adventure comparable to Elisa’s. Allen even thinks that she is more skillful as a tinker. However, he is the one who rides the country living an adventurous life. The society in The Chrysanthemums relegates women to the periphery.
In The Yellow Wallpaper women as perceived as beings incapable of making wise decisions on their own. The main function of women is engaging in domestic work with men doing “active” work. This ensured continued women’s subordination to men. Gilman portrays John’s sister as the perfect woman since she is an enthusiastic housekeeper. In addition, the narrator feels less of a woman since other women have to perform domestic chores for her. The gender division created by the society kept the women in a childish state of ignorance. It prevented the women from reaching full maturity. Thus, John assumes he is more mature and wiser than his wife. Therefore, he is the only one who can make wise decisions for his wife. However, this makes him patronize, misjudge, and dominate his wife with the wrong perception that he is helping her. This relegates the narrator to behaving like a child who cannot stand up to herself without appearing as unreasonable or disloyal. The narrator says, “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” (Gilman 1). She thinks that her intellectual capability is less than that of her husband. The narrator has no control in even the smallest detail of her life. This forces her to retreat to fantasy, the only area she maintains some control. The narrator also states “but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad” (Gilman 2). This shows that she has accepted her husband to be intellectually superior to her. Therefore, her husband makes the “right” decision regarding the activities she should undertake.
Lack of self-expression
What mainly drive the narrator to insanity are the mental constraints placed on her rather than the physical constraints. The narrator has to hide her fears and anxieties so that it may seem that she has a happy marriage and that she is winning her fight against depression. The idleness and silence of the “resting cure” that her husband advocates for, are some of the things that profoundly affect her mental wellbeing. This forbids her from exercising her mind in any way. However, the narrator longs for an intellectual and emotional outlet. She resorts to a keeping a secret journal since she cannot get any other outlet due to her confinement. The narrator wants to work but does not want to go against the will of her husband. In page 1, the narrator says, “personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.” Thus, even though this is what she believes is good to her wellbeing, she cannot express her ideas as she would seem disrespectful to her husband.
In The Chrysanthemums, Elisa does not have sexual fulfillment. She has a passionless marriage and her husband treats her as his sibling or friend rather than his wife. The lack of a sexually fulfilling relationship forces Elisa to have strong feelings of attraction towards the tinker. Elisa’s body language to tinker shows that she has strong sexual desires that her husband does not fulfill. The relationship between Elisa and her husband lacks any adventure that she longs for. Her husband shows no interest in her farming activities. He tells her, “I wish you would work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big” (The Chrysanthemums John Steinbeck with questions 2). When the tinker shows appreciation for her flowers, she immediately takes notice of him. When the tinker says, “Kind of long-stemmed flower? Looks like a quick puff of colored smoke?” She replies, “what a nice way to describe them” (page 5). This makes Elisa feel appreciated, and is attracted to stranger. Elisa is full of excitement due to the conversation she had with the tinker and dresses attractively to go out with her husband. However, when her husband comes out of the bathroom and finds her dressed impeccably, he seems surprised. He asks Elisa, “Why – why, Elisa. You look so nice!” (page 9). This reduces the self-confidence of Elisa. When her husband offers to take her to a fight, Elisa objects as her husband due to the inflation of her self-confidence by her husband. The author writes, Elisa “turned up her coat so he could not see that she was crying weakly – like an old woman” (page 11). This is a clear illustration of her pain.
The Chrysanthemum and The Yellow Wallpaper are stories that illustrate the sorrows that women face in a male dominated society. Both women struggle with their roles as wives and are loyal to their husbands. Both stories have a tragic ending. The narrator’s depression turns to full-blown madness. On the other hand, Elisa resigns to the fact that her husband would never show her the affection she needs since he does not know her needs.