Comparison of “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story of an Hour”

Subject: Literature
Pages: 4
Words: 1177
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College


The Narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper and Mrs. Mallard in The Story of an Hour are both products of their era, filled with a paternalistic attitude towards women’s lives, aspirations, and opportunities. Their husbands have become a burden to women, guards in prison, presented in the form of ordinary houses with assistants: nannies, servants, and some relatives. Both heroines experience suffering but find themselves in different situations where the husbands actualize their role as guards. The outcomes of their suffering are presented differently by the authors. The Narrator is in an active phase of madness, which subjugates her completely, harming even her husband in the end; simultaneously, Mrs. Mallard experiences an internal existential crisis until her heart stops beating.

The Narrator

The Narrator struggles with postpartum depression, and her husband, a doctor, uses the technique according to which the wife is supposed to have complete rest and lack of work. The wife is forbidden to write, read, and John keeps an eye on this, while the Narrator begins to keep a diary (Özyon 117-19). Charlotte Perkins Gilman puts the Narrator in a notoriously unusual and critical situation: the birth of a child and postpartum psychological trauma.

Postpartum depression in the 19th century posed a severe problem for a woman in male and medical perception. The body of a woman who had undergone childbirth was considered, against all odds, fragile. Here the figure of the doctor and the man merges into one in reproach for weakness and the inability to perform everyday practices. The Narrator’s husband treats her like an object, even though he indicates being touched by her (Abdullah Alajlan and Aljohani 137-38). It is a common situation in which men use affectionate expressions towards women, supposedly for expressing love, but objectifying and infantilizing them.

Without the ability to write and read, the Narrator goes crazy and imagines the people and pictures she finds in the patterns of the yellow wallpaper. Initially, she says: “I never saw a worse paper in my life. One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin” (Gilman 45). Her imagination overwhelms her, and she endows the ways she sees with a scent. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wanted to show that the then patriarchal society perceived even the female creativity as a disease or something extra for a wife and mother. The Narrator is weary of her role as wife and mother, and the author depicts her as a prisoner, distraught in a claustrophobic hysteria. John, who was not serious about her disorder at first, faints when he sees her condition. The Narrator’s madness defeats John; he pays for the mistake of frivolity. She noticed John’s treatment: “John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him” (Gilman 30). John is pleased with how easily and quickly he found a cure for his wife.

The Narrator is the product of institutional sexism, where male doctors portray her body as weak and needing constant rest. There is a substitution of concepts: medical and marital care is replaced by subordination and deprivation of rights. The Narrator is forbidden to actualize herself as a creative subject. At the same time, her illness is always considered minor: “I am glad my case is not serious! But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing” (Gilman 30). The Narrator is forced to fight not only with John but with the medical system, and this system tries to disable the woman. It is a severe social problem faced by women during the Narrator’s time and continues to be confronted by women today. And women’s health, in general, is very susceptible to institutional sexism in matters of menstruation, menopause, and contraception. Thus, unable to find support in the healthcare system to her husband belongs, the Narrator escapes into the world of her fantasies and loses her mind.

Mrs. Mallard

While the Narrator struggles with institutional sexism, Mrs. Mallard’s problem seems deep and existential. Faced with the news of her husband’s death, Louise Mallard appears to be confronted with death itself and needs to be realized (Abdullah Alajlan and Aljohani). She needs solitude to survive the information of her beloved spouse, with whom, as it seems to everyone, she had no conflicts and misunderstandings. Outside, a beautiful shell makes relatives (particularly Mrs. Mallard’s sister, Josephine) suspect that Louise will commit suicide. No one knows what is in Louise’s head and what she sincerely worries about.

Mrs. Mallard is overwhelmed with emotion, and she feels bitterness mixed with joy. Remembering family life, she imagines it as a beautiful cage in which her husband, who has already died, placed her. Kate Chopin describes her breathing, pulse, and other physiological processes that reflect high emotional intensity: “Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body” (Chopin 2). It shows how strongly her soul and body react to the release. The death of one man, Mr. Mallard, turns out to be a new breath and life for his wife.

If solitude is torture for the Narrator, then solitude is salvation for Mrs. Mallard. Louise dies after her seclusion is violated, and shock overtakes her (Paudel 98-99). In isolation, in which Mrs. Mallard is of her own free will, she finds an outlet and is released from the cage. The collision with death gives rise to the unknown and new; pictures of a happy and calm future are drawn in her head.

Comparing these two heroines can demonstrate the suffering of women forced to submit to the patriarchal order. The Narrator is driven to complete madness through the misunderstanding of her husband and the brutality of medical institutions to women’s health. Mrs. Mallard is gone to death through the existential fear of a second encounter with her husband when she already mentally said goodbye to him and buried him. Both of these women are in seclusion but with different goals. For one, solitude is torment and longing, and for the other, salvation and the opportunity to imagine a happy future. Violation of privacy in both cases is associated with a loss of consciousness, while Mrs. Mallard dies of a heart attack upon seeing her husband. John, the Narrator’s husband, himself faints, seeing his wife completely distraught and crawling around the room. By comparing these points, readers can deepen their understanding of the atmosphere of 19th-century life and see how much imprisonment affects the human mind.


In the examples of the Narrator and Mrs. Mallard, one can see the danger of lack of freedom for thinking and emotional stability. The objectification of a woman can drive her to madness or death when she stands on the threshold of existential fear. Lack of freedom makes women keep desires and emotions in themselves, which causes irreparable harm to their health. Society turned a deaf ear to the problems described by Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and medicine allowed the Narrator to go insane and Louise to die. These two works expose one problem from two sides: social-institutional and existential.

Works Cited

Abdullah Alajlan, Lama, and Faiza Aljohani. “The Awakening of Female Consciousness in Kate Chopin’s the Story of an Hour (1894) and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s the Yellow Wallpaper (1892).” Arab World English Journal For Translation and Literary Studies, vol. 3, no. 3, 2019, pp. 123–39. Crossref.

Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. Joe Books Ltd, 2018.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper Illustrated. Independently published, 2022.

Özyon, Arzu. “A Journey of Feminist Rebellion Through Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Short Story the Yellow Wallpaper and Her Novel Herland.” International Journal of Language Academy, vol. 35, no. 35, 2020, pp. 115–24. Crossref.

Paudel, Kishor. “Existential Angst in Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour.” NCC Journal vol. 4, no. 1, 2019, pp. 97-99.