Simone De Beauvoir's Woman as Other and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper: Comparative Analysis

Published: 2021-09-16 04:15:10
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What society perceives as an affectionate way for a man to treat a woman is a subtle form of women’s oppression. In her text, “Woman as Other,” Simone de Beauvoir, a feminist, argues that women have been oppressed by religion, language, myths, and science. As a result, women have accepted a lesser role in society. In her fictional story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a women’s rights advocate, writes about a woman, Jane, who is supposedly treated affectionately by her husband, John, but that eventually leads to her insanity. In this story, which is mostly based on her personal experience, Gilman argues that the way in which men treat women is a form of oppression. Gilman’s story supports de Beauvoir’s idea of master and slave which is shown, in Gilman’s story, through Jane’s dependency on John for getting better. De Beauvoir’s idea of otherness is represented in Gilman’s piece through her being stopped from expressing herself in almost anyway and being laughed at when she does. Simone de Beauvoir’s ideas of the dichotomy of master and slave, of otherness, and of subordination of women help to understand Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s fictional story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” in which she argues that what seems like a normal way for men to treat women is actually oppression.
de Beauvoir’s idea of master and slave, that the slave is dependent upon the master, but the master could do without the slave, is present in Gilman’s story through the way John treats his wife and makes her feel as if she needs him while he can be fine without her. Jane is made to feel that she has to satisfy her husband’s wants whereas whatever she says is disregarded by John. At one instance, when Jane requests that she be moved to another room due to the horrid conditions of her room, John takes her in his arms and calls her “a blessed goose” (Gilman 663). Which goes to show that John does not take her seriously, but, rather, treats her like a child, he’s showing her affection, not importance. He shows that he does not need to fulfill anything she wants, whereas she has to be considerate of making him uncomfortable. Beauvoir discusses this idea of master and slave by saying that although the master needs the slave, he does not show it, on the other hand, the slave shows dependency, in his “hope and fear” (Beauvoir 804). The condition of Jane and the slave are very similar, whenever she brings up her want to move to more comfortable room in the house, John treats her like his happiness is more important and she accepts in fear of being a “burden” on him. She accepts that her needs hold little importance in relation to him.Beauvoir’s idea of otherness, that in men’s view women are defective in some way, and because women are regarded as the “Other,” explains why John thought Jane had no idea how to take care of herself, in Gilman’s story. In society, while men do not need to be defined, women do. This is what de Beauvoir points out in her text when she says, “No group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other over against itself” (803). For man to be recognized as the “essential,” he has to define woman, specifically, as the “Other,” the “inessential.” This idea of women being the “Other” is present in Gilman’s story, where Jane stays at home, in the attic, for days without seeing him, and says, “I take pains to control myself—before him” (Gilman 661). It is evident here that society demands that woman exercise self-control in order to please the man, because of the woman’s being the inessential. Furthermore, John is away from home for a number of days, he has complete freedom over what he wants to do and he can decide when to come back to Jane for his own satisfaction. That is not the case for Jane, who is left in the attic, alone, which leads to nothing but her madness.
de Beauvoir’s idea of the subordination of women is present in Gilman’s story through the cure that she receives for her illness. Jane’s brother and John, both physicians, regard themselves as the authority on medicine that can never be wrong about the cure for Jane’s illness because they are men and professionals. She has to take the “resting cure,” meaning she is not allowed to do any type of work, in order to cure her nervous depression. She says, “I believe, that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.” (Gilman 661). While if a man was to experience such illness, he would not have been prescribed this cure. The medical practices also support stopping woman from being themselves, hence giving her a lesser status, and results in increasing her illness. Complaining about John’s extremely rational way of thinking and of evaluating situations, Jane mentions, “He scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures” (Gilman 660). This shows that John believes that Jane cannot carry out tasks for herself, or even think for herself, and she needs to do what he prescribes for her because it has to be for the better. John scoffing at anything that might not seem rational to him shows that he does not appreciate Jane’s creativity and imagination. Beauvoir shows men’s idea of woman’s defectiveness by saying that men think that a woman “thinks with her glands” (Beauvoir 801). This idea goes to show that women are not considered, by men, to be smart and to be innovative in doing things that are good for them, like in Jane’s case, if not for others. They automatically think that anything that comes from a women must be bad because she is not as intelligent as them. Furthermore, Jane being stopped from working, especially from writing, shows that men think women have to be validated to do almost anything. Even though it might seem like John cared for her, he was subconsciously being condescending. Instances like these occur throughout Gilman’s story, which shows that men think that, without their direction, women would be worse off.

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