The work by Charlotte Perkins Gilman ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and the work by Tillie Olsen both represent the genre of a short story. These stories are very much alike. Apart from the similarities they share, they have a lot of differences.
Both works belong to the genre of a short story. However, they were written with an interval of sixty nine years. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote her ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ in 1892. The work ‘I Stand Here Ironing’ by Tillie Olsen was printed in 1961. Still, if to analyze the content of these stories it would be rather difficult to imagine this interval of almost seventy years. Both works deal with the same problem – a female’s right for her personal happiness and self-realization regardless of her social duties of a wife and a mother. Both stories are told by women whose life went wrong because of their responsibilities towards their families.
The narrator of the story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is an insane woman who has a husband and a child. Having suffered from a serious depression she takes a course of treatment. Though, it does not seem at all to have much effect on her. Doctors characterize her as a woman with ‘slight hysterical tendency’ (Gilman). However her insanity aggravates. First she feels that there is ‘something queer’ (Gilman) about her illness. She wants to ‘relieve her mind’ (Gilman). She is tired of ‘rings and things’ in her bedroom (Gilman).
‘I Stand Here Ironing’ is a story about a woman’s sacrifice that she made after becoming a wife and a mother. She is not insane, but her feelings are of the same nature. The difference from ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is that the narrator feels guilty. The narrator feels that she is responsible for her failings as a wife and a mother. She realizes that her best efforts were frustrated by such circumstances as lack of social services and inadequate pay. As opposed to the character from ‘The Yellow Paper’ not only does she blame other people and life circumstances for her hard life and lack of her daughter’s confidence. It is hard to admit but the narrator is aware of her fault. But the main character of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ does not seem to demonstrate any sign of such awareness. She considers that her family murdered a person inside her, but does not think about the fact that her husband needs her as a wife and her child needs her as a mother. She is an egoist.
Both stories ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and ‘I Stand Here Ironing’ contain a lot of autobiographical elements. The story by Tillie Olsen includes such narrator’s recollection as being a young mother whose opportunities are rather limited, or being a wife who was abandoned. This story is autobiographical. Like the main character of the story ‘I Stand Here Ironing’ Olsen also met some challenges in life. She struggled to balance her family life with her political ambitions and activism. The story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman tells about the author’s own severe depression and mental disorder. She confessed that the presence of her husband and child even worsened her terrible state.
Both the character of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and the character in ‘I Stand Here Ironing’ are unfortunate miserable women. However, the narrator of ‘I Stand Here Ironing’ is not the only unhappy woman in the story. This is the other distinction from the story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The narrator confesses in a phone conversation that her daughter Emily’s childhood was rather rocky. Though ‘she was a beautiful baby’ (Olsen), she was a very unhappy child, ‘that cannot be helped’ (Olsen). However, these unhappy characters are united by one common problem: they do not see themselves as valuable creations. The narrator of ‘I Stand Here Ironing’ is oppressed by environmental and her personal circumstances. She feels sad that she did not succeed as a wife; she laments her unwise and desperate choices that she made as a mother. Emily’s fractured portrait comes from her mother’s memories from the past. When her mother tell about her poor life, it becomes clear, that Emily’s life was not better than her mother’s. She was a forgotten child. She suffered a lot; her development was slow, her nature was silky and gloomy; her self-esteem was very low; and her life was not a joy, but a survival in the brutal world. The narrator of ‘The Yellow Wall Paper’ also feels sorry about her unrealized dreams and wishes.
In contrast to the main character of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ who has a serious mental disorder and blames her husband for unhappy life, the narrator in ‘I Stand Here Ironing’ has the ability to analyze her life and her mistakes and determine the best way to solve her problems. However, she did not have this luxury long ago when she was a young and inexperienced mother. The woman is literary weighed down with constant demands of her family and domestic duties. Of course, being a mother she understands her responsibility for not very successive role in her daughter Emily’s unhappy life, her development. However, this responsibility is not full. The narrator also blames environment, social conditions that can make the life of a single mother terrible. Thus, she cannot estimate in full how unhappy her daughter is.
Both stories contain very bright symbols that reflect the inner state of both characters. These symbols are named in the titles of the stories. The main character of ‘I Stand Here Ironing’ tells about her life while ironing clothes. Ironing is a backdrop for her thoughts, her considerations as a mother. The narrator in the story by Ch. Gilman is totally obsessed with the yellow wallpapers that cover the walls of her bedroom. The narrator believes that there is woman trapped inside. Her intention is to help the woman, though the narrator is afraid to reveal her intentions as she realizes that no one would ever understand her. By the end of the story a reader comprehends that the character is completely insane as she believes that she herself is a woman from the wallpaper. These symbols mean that both women have found something to distract from their grief. One of them hides in ironing and another one hides in wallpapers.
Written in different periods of time both short stories have much in common. They are both told by women who are not satisfied with their family life. The work by Charlotte Perkins Gilman ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and the work by Tillie Olsen ‘I Stand Here Ironing’ are both masterpieces that raise serious questions of duty, self-esteem, personal self-realization and female happiness. Still, they also bear a lot of differences. Once one woman blames people who surround her, another one comprehends that her own fault is also great.
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