Misunderstood - Comparing the Short Stories "The Awakening" and "The Yellow Wallpaper"


“The Awakening” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” both depict women suffering from the constraints that society has placed on them. Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman write regarding woman born in the wrong time, Edna Pontellier in “The Awakening” is a repressed woman coming to terms with her desire and ambitions, and the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the wife of a doctor whom disregards her own opinions and patronizes her input. The protagonists in both stories share many parallels but have one undeniably strong connection; they suffer from a misunderstood mental illness.

Early in “The Awakening” Chopin establishes that protagonist Edna is not content with her life. Edna has been going through life in a relatively unaware state of mind and Chopin writes regarding her “awakening” to the life around her. Readers begin to see Edna’s illness develop in chapter three “an indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish” this is the first time readers see Edna begin to break down for reason Edna does not understand (539). Edna’s suffers from indescribable mood swings and a feeling of hopelessness;

The years that are gone seem like dreams--if one might go on sleeping and dreaming--but to wake up and find--oh! well! perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one's life. (621)
Edna’s returns to the sea where she feels free and at peace and finally understand she will never be happy and always want more but knows that no one would understand.

The narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” recognized that she had a mental illness from the beginning and confides in her loving husband and physician to help her “a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency” (808). She is prescribed the resting cure and told to do as little work as possible, this only worsening her illness. The narrator tries to speak up but her husband does not listen ‘You see he does not believe I am sick!”, so she is forced to hide her thoughts and keep a journal (808). Eventually her illness develops into schizophrenia, because of her misdiagnosis and no one listening to her needs.

The narrator and Edna feel there is no way out of their situation, Edna copes by taking a swim while the narrator has to give into her illness and goes insane. Both woman are misunderstood and not listened to, they reach out only to be laughed at. Today’s times have changed, and people now understand that mental illness is a chemical imbalance that does not go away with time and can only worsen with neglect. Everyone at sometime feels alone and saddened by their life and it is a much more accepted part of society now. Both novels are timeless in their characters struggled journey to find happiness in their life, something everyone can relate to.

The two stories “The Awakening” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” are very different in many ways, but they are both are perfect depiction of oppressed woman suffering from mental illnesses, and the way they were forced to cope with their illness without real help. Edna and the narrator struggles are timeless and nearly every man or woman can relate. While both women have different types of mental illness the parallels are clear in both novels.

Works Cited
Chopin, Kate. "The Awakening." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Sixth Edition. Vol. C. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton, 2003: 535-625.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Sixth Edition. Vol. C. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton, 2003: 808-819.