Alienation of Women in "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "A Doll's House"
Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Henrik Ibsen's play "A Doll's House" share similar themes of women being alienated from the community and offer similar solutions to this problem. Nora and the narrator of the yellow wallpaper are both alienated because of the limited role that society places them in. This limited role based on their place as women in society alienates them from the community by making them inferior. This does not only refer to how others perceive them, but how they come to perceive themselves. It essentially becomes an accepted view where the two women both accept being powerless and allow themselves to be dominated. Both Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Henrik Ibsen show through their works that the solution to this problem is for women to recognize their limited roles and fight to break free from these roles.
Nora and the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" are both alienated from the community because of the limited role that society places them in. This refers to the way that women are viewed as wives and mothers and are not considered to have any greater value or ability. In both cases, the women are not physically isolated from society. Instead, it is more a case where they are isolated because they are not allowed to contribute as individuals or have any power in society. This is seen in "The Yellow Wallpaper" by the way that the narrator's doctor, brother, and husband all do not believe that there is anything wrong, despite the narrator suffering from symptoms of depression. Rather than taking her illness seriously, they consider that she is ill because she is stressing her mind by thinking. This illustrates that women are not even considered as being capable of thought. This is also seen by their solution to her illness, which is for her to avoid any form of thought, including avoiding thinking about her condition. For the males in the community, women are considered as only being useful for completing housework, with any form of real work or real thought considered bad for their health. It is also seen that the males in the community do not allow women to make any decisions, including decisions about themselves. This is seen by the way the narrator describes how she believes she is not ill and how she believes work would do her good, but is not allowed to voice these opinions. The isolation that the narrator feels then, is based on her not being able to contribute to society or function intelligently. She is considers as having nothing to offer and this leaves her mind isolated. The same situation is observed in "A Doll's House" with Nora. Just like the narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper," Nora is confined to her role as wife and not considered as having any value beyond this. She is not allowed any responsibility in the marriage and remains powerless. The only significant difference with Nora is that she reacts to the situation differently. Instead of become depressed, she takes on the role of the child in the relationship with her husband. She recognizes that he is the authority, just as a child recognizes adults as authority figures, but she also defies her husband. This is seen by the way that she borrows money, while being aware that her husband will disapprove. Even in doing this, Nora is thinking like a child and disobeying for her own amusement. This includes that she has the expectation that Torvald will forgive her just as a father forgives a daughter. While Nora taking on the child role is different from how the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" reacts, both characters are in the same situation where they are isolated from the community because their role in women makes them inferior and powerless.
The next consideration is how the two characters respond to their roles. It must be noted that the alienation they experience is not just based on how others perceive them. Both characters also perceive themselves as being inferior and this contributes to their isolation. This is clearly seen at the start of "The Yellow Wallpaper" where the narrator describes how her husband views her. One of the first statements she makes is that "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage" (Gilman 833). This statement shows that the narrator accepts her place as inferior and allows her husband to dominate. The narrator then refers to her own thoughts. In doing this, she presents her thoughts and then immediately follows by noting that the men do not agree with her. As she states regarding the treatment of her illness, "Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?" (Gilman 833). The same pattern occurs continually where the narrator describes her opinion and follows it by asking "what is one to do?" This emphasizes that the narrator considers herself to be powerless. The pattern also shows that the narrator puts no real value on her own thoughts or ideas. This illustrates that her alienation is not just because of other people alienating her, but also occurs because she accepts their ideas, considers herself inferior, and alienates herself. Nora is similar in that she also accepts her inferior role. This is seen by the way that Nora adapts to the role by acting as if she is a child. If it is considered that a child represents a lack of power and acceptance of others as dominant, then it becomes clear that Nora is allowing herself to be inferior. This is also emphasized at several points during the play where Nora makes comments that show that she is not completely naive about the role she has accepted. In discussing the problem with the borrowed money and the possibility of admitting to her husband that she borrowed the money Nora says that if he found it "It would upset our mutual relations altogether; our beautiful happy home would no longer be what it is now" (Ibsen 168). This shows that Nora has an awareness of the role she plays and understands that her staying in the role keeps the peace. At another point, Torvald says that people do not sacrifice their honor for the one they love. Nora replies saying that "Hundreds and thousands of women have" (Ibsen 210). This is another point showing that Nora is aware of the role that women play and how men dominate. Overall, this shows that Nora and the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" both accept themselves as inferior because of their place as women and allow themselves to be dominated. This includes that both women try not to use their minds or their intelligence, with this alienating them from the community.
Finally, it is important to consider the solution that both authors offer. This is another point where both authors offer the same solution, with both showing that it is necessary for women to recognize their limited roles and fight to break free from those roles. In "The Yellow Wallpaper" this is seen by the way the narrator is driven to madness because of her alienation. This madness begins because of the orders she has been given not to use her mind. It must be noted that this order is given based on an assumption that women can get ill from too much work and too much thinking. The narrator tries to obey this order, but her restless mind needs to be occupied. Her thoughts become focused on the wallpaper. This leads to her delusions where she believes there are women skulking behind the wallpaper. Her madness worsens as the woman behind the wallpaper becomes clear to her. At this point, the narrator considers that she is improving. She states this by describing how she now looks forward to studying the wallpaper and finding out what is behind it, "Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch" (Gilman 841). This suggests that the narrator's real problem is that she has nothing to occupy her mind with. Her obsession and madness continues to increase to the point where she tears off the wallpaper and then skulks around the room believing that she is the woman from behind the wallpaper. This final outcome acts as a warning to women, urging them not to accept the role that society has placed them in but to break free from the role. As the narrator's story shows, trying to accept the given role will only result in madness. "A Doll's House" presents the same message by showing how Nora manages to break free from her role. This occurs when Nora realizes that Torvald is not going to take the blame for borrowing the…