Comparison of Emily in a “Rose for Emily” and Narrator in “Yellow Wallpaper”

Subject: Literature
Pages: 5
Words: 1401
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College

The vast literary world allows its readers to plunge into different stories, analyzing and comparing them with each other. A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner and Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman are two short stories depicting the lives of two different women. Although they both evolve around the isolation theme and finish tragically for the female protagonists, the authors portray their lives differently.

Writers usually prefer writing about mundane things to establish a closer connection with the audience. These two authors are not exception. They write about common for many people things, such as loneliness and isolation. However, their Gothic styles make them stand out from the rest of the authors. What makes them so unique is their interest in antisocial and extreme behavior that can be tracked in the stories’ protagonists. Their stories do not include supernatural forces, but still reading them raises fear and wild emotions as their stories involve frightening scenarios and unacceptable social conduct.

Although both stories describe the lives of psychologically damaged women, their authors make different decisions regarding the focus of their trauma. Faulkner depicts Emily with psychological illness such as necrophilia, revealed by the end of the story: “the man himself lay in the bed” (Faulkner 8). The author never mentions his name, but it is obviously the body of dead Homer Barron. More interestingly, when the townsfolk looks at his bed, there is “a long strand of iron-gray hair,” presumably belonging to Emily (Faulkner 8). Thus, it demonstrates that Emily is psychologically ill as she spends the nights with her dead lover.

What makes Emily different from the narrator is that she is presumably dangerous to the people surrounding her. The only lover in her life disappears after a year of being engaged with her, making readers question Emily’s virtue (Faulkner 6). The author never states the circumstances of Barron’s death, but the fact that his body remains in her bedroom without burying gives assumptions that Emily is the killer of her man.

When it comes to Gilman’s description of a narrator who serves as the story’s protagonist, she admits her mental instability. She points to her “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency” from the story’s beginning (Gilman 648). The author’s description of her constant nervousness results in her crying all day for nothing. Possibly, the narrator has schizophrenia as she possesses symptoms such as hallucinations, depression, and social withdrawal. More dramatically, the protagonist describes how she sees a woman behind the yellow wallpaper in her room: “it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern” (Gilman 652). Her condition is severe as sometimes the narrator fails to differentiate between her hallucinations and reality.

The main discussion for every reader is the themes the authors try to touch on. One such themes is isolation and loneliness experienced by the protagonists of both stories. They struggle because they feel alone despite having some relatives surrounding them. For example, Emily has her father; later in life, she has a Yankee man (Faulkner 5). Meanwhile, the narrator has a husband and a baby with whom she can share all her concerns. Moreover, the two characters never interact with anyone outside of their houses. Emily becomes so alienated that she never lets anyone inside her house except her black worker.

Loneliness and alienation are not the only points of a plot that both women share in common as men suppress them. Men in the two stories somehow facilitate the protagonists’ social withdrawal to a different extent and for different reasons because their dominance forces females to escape into their realities. In Faulkner’s story, Mr. Grierson, Emily’s father, symbolizes control as he is the only male figure in her life, thus, influencing her every decision. Even the imagery of her father, “her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip,” points out his strict nature (Faulkner 4). Even after his death, she never betrays him as his dominance pursues her.

In Gilman’s story, the narrator’s husband is caring but never takes her opinion and acts too protective of her. It seems that the woman has been consistently ignored by her husband since she unquestioningly obeys him in every question: “he is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction” (Gilman 648). She even suffers psychologically alone without any support from John and tries to control her disorder in front of him. There is another male figure in this story – her brother. He agrees with John that the narrator’s condition is not dangerous, forcing her to believe. In turn, both women in these plots admit male superiority resulting in escape. For Emily, her house is the only safe place, while for a woman in Yellow Wallpaper, her mind and world of wallpaper patterns are the way to avoid her husband. Eventually, they become insane after being trapped by men in their lives.

The connection between these two themes, isolation and male dominance, makes readers reconsider how much the two characters resemble each other. To elucidate, Emily’s decision to lead lonely life is not just an obligation left by her father. She, in fact, terminates her interactions with people because they judge her (Faulkner 3). Perhaps even after her father’s death, Emily could lead a normal life talking to neighbors and inviting guests to her, but none of them supported her. She feels their hostility and rejection towards her and makes a more independent and balanced decision than the narrator in the second story. In contrast, a woman in Yellow Wallpaper never gets a chance to decide for herself as her husband constantly torments her (Gilman 649). Therefore, a reader could not predict her autonomous decisions and actions if her husband died like Emily’s father.

The remarkable similarity between the two characters is their purpose. Questioning the creation of such inferior to men characters is the right thing for Faulkner’s and Gilman’s audiences. Through these protagonists, the authors convey typical themes of love and hate for all females. Interestingly, they choose different ways of delivering their messages. For instance, Gilman reminds his readers that no matter how strong love may seem, it should never undermine anyone’s emotions and mental state. His character, a young, loving mother, becomes a crazy woman with illusions of a trapped woman in the wallpaper. Meanwhile, Faulkner’s Emily proves the importance of a healthy love for her parents as she becomes dependent on her father but never realizes it. It even seems to readers that she does not really love him but only respects and fears him. It results in her inability to maintain meaningful relationships. Therefore, both females’ personalities evolve around the themes of hate and love, leading to their mental instability.

Eventually, the stories end differently for Emily and the narrator. Although Emily presumably sleeps with Homer Barron before her death, she dies alone as her man has been dead for a long time (Faulkner 8). This tragic depiction of a woman passing away in her seventies at a place visited only by one servant for several decades illustrates that Emily loses. Probably she never tries to fight her loneliness and insanity. Still, it clearly justifies that her story ends without any hope of beginning a new life full of joy and happiness.

In comparison, the narrator of Gilman’s story also has a tragic ending but not for the woman herself. Unlike Emily, she remains alive when her husband faints: “so that I had to creep over him every time!” (Gilman, p. 656). A reader can derive that she rises over him, meaning she wins. She, indeed, loses her sanity to finally free herself from the husband’s cage since the author illustrates it through the woman’s figure behind the wallpaper: “And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back” (Gilman 656). Therefore, the narrator realizes her power, although driven to madness, while Emily accepts her fate.

To conclude, Emily from A Rose for Emily and the narrator from Yellow Wallpaper are depicted as trapped in the house women. Faulkner and Gilman portray their protagonists as mentally unstable women who suffer from different conditions. The former links his character to necrophilia, while the latter connects with schizophrenia since the narrator goes crazy. This way, they live under constant male control and dominance, so they psychologically struggle from these violated personal boundaries.

Works Cited

Faulkner, Wiliam. A Rose for Emily. Gothic Digital Series. 1930. Web.

Gilman, Charlotte. Narrator in Yellow Wallpaper. Project Gutenberg. 1892. Web.