Isolation in “a Rose for Emily” and “the Yellow Wallpaper”
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman are two well written short stories that entail both similarities and differences. Both short stories were written in the late 1800’s early 1900’s and depict the era when women were viewed less important than men. The protagonist in each story is a woman, who is confined in solitary due to the men in their lives. The narrator in “A Rose for Emily” is the mutual voice of the townspeople of Jefferson, while Emily Grierson is the main character in the story that undergoes a sequence of bad events.
The unnamed, female narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is also the main character whose journal we read. This difference in tense gives each story a different outlook on the situations at hand. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” we get the thoughts and actions of the unnamed narrator as she sees it, while in “A Rose for Emily” we get Emily’s thoughts form dialogue and her actions from the narration of the townspeople. A comparison between the protagonist in “A Rose for Emily” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” enables readers to interpret the main character’s isolation from their community and state of mind.
In each section of “A Rose for Emily”, the narrator goes back and forth in time telling stories of Miss Emily’s life. Emily’s father was a controlling man who ran off all prospect men of Emily’s (Faulkner 77). This caused Emily to be an unhappy, middle-aged, single woman who was the talk of the town. Miss Emily isolated herself from all people, except having a male Negro housekeeper who ran all her errands and took care of her house. According to Floyd C.
Watkins’ “The Structure of ‘A Rose For Emily’ in Modern Language Notes, “The inviolability of Miss Emily’s isolation is maintained in the central division, part three, which no outsider enters her home” (509). In “The Yellow Wallpaper” it is revealed at the beginning of the story that the unnamed female narrator is “sick” or depressed, and therefore is taken far away from people she knows to rest and get better (Gilman 408). From Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, Paula A.
Treichler’s “Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’” informs readers “The narrator is forbidden to engage in normal social conversation […] and avoid expressing negative thoughts and expressions about her illness” (61). Although both women were isolated, Emily isolated herself while the unnamed narrator was forcefully isolated. In both short stories the main character is judged by the surrounding people: Emily as a conceited, ill woman, and the unnamed narrator as a “sick”, depressed woman. In “A Rose for Emily” the townspeople were extremely nosey and very judgmental about how people should live there life.
Watkins argues “The contrast between Emily and the townspeople and between her home and her surroundings is carried out by the invasion of her home by the adherents of the new order in the town” (509). Also it is displayed sometime after Emily’s father died when she went to the druggist and ordered arsenic to kill rats (Faulkner 78-79). “…The next day we [the townspeople] all said, ‘She will kill herself’; and we [the townspeople] said it would be the best thing (Faulkner 79). In “The Yellow Wallpaper” the unnamed narrator is judged by her family and friends.
In the introduction of the story the unnamed narrator reveals that her husband, also a physician, belittles her illness and her general thoughts of life (Gilman 408). “If 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–what is one to do? ” (Gilman 408). The narrator is left in the “colonial mansion” for the summer, not seeing anyone except her husband, John, John’s sister, Jennie, who takes care of the narrator and the house, and some family members who came to visit for a short while.
By the end of each story we realize that both Emily and the unnamed narrator are clearly insane. After Emily’s death and funeral, the nosey townspeople enter her home and break down a locked away room that had not been entered in forty years (Faulkner 80). In the room they found the decaying body of Homer Barron, the man that she wished to marry (81). “The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love, had cuckolded him” (Faulkner 81).
A “long strand of iron-gray hair” was on the pillow next to him, indicating that Emily is the result of this tragedy (Faulkner 81). Although the townspeople had always thought of Emily as crazy, this finally proved them right. Throughout “The Yellow Wallpaper” it is noted that the unnamed narrator is ill. After being secluded in the upstairs room, “the yellow wallpaper comes to occupy the narrator’s entire reality” affirming her loss of sanity and isolation from the world (Treichler 62). “There are things in that wallpaper that nobody knows about but me. …] And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about that pattern” (Gilman 413). The unnamed narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” had torn down all the wallpaper and locked herself in the room in order to get the woman out from behind the wallpaper (Gilman 417). It is interpreted that the woman behind the wallpaper is actually the narrator’s shadow. The parallel enabling comparison and contrast between the main characters in “A Rose for Emily” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” reveals separation, seclusion, and depression as a result of life circumstances.
While differences of circumstances exist in the compared short stories, resemblances permit readers to observe events leading to associations between the two protagonists. According to reviews, isolation by both characters is exposed as an entry into the short stories. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” review by Treischler, the confirmation of the unnamed narrator being isolated is affirmed stating “The narrator of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ has come with her husband to an isolated country estate…” (62).
The review of “A Rose for Emily” by Watkins verifies the isolation of Emily when he communicates “…she withdraws more and more until her own death again exposes her to the townspeople. ” (509). The short stories “A Rose for Emily” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” possess protagonist as the main character that reveal connections of separation enabling associations between the two characters. Work Cited Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily. ” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Fourth Compact Edition. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts.
Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008, 75-81. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper. ” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Fourth Compact Edition. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008, 408-418. Treichler, Paula A. “Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. ” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. 3. 5 (1984): 61-77. JSTOR. Web. 11 March 2010. Watkins, Floyd C. “The Structure of ‘A Rose for Emily’. ” Modern Language Notes. 69. 7 (1954): 508-510. JSTOR. Web. 16 February 2010.