|Type of paper:||Essay|
|Categories:||Women Economics Feminism The Yellow Wallpaper|
In Charlotte Gilman's Herland, Women and Economics and The Yellow Wallpaper, introduce the reader to feminist characters. A prolific writer, Charlotte Perkins Gilman was also a feminist at best. She portrays this aspect by creating an ideology of utopianism through her 1948 book, Herland. Herland is a literary work of art which aims at addressing women's relations with a stark contrast to a patriarchal society. Other than Herland, Charlotte Perkins developed a large variety of works of art, most of which were centered on the position of women throughout the centuries. Her focus on a utopic feminist society drew a lot of criticism from the broader public on her literary attention and theorization of the society. Some of her literary works include Women and Economics and The Yellow Wallpaper.
Gilman's books, Herland, The Yellow Wallpaper and Women, and Economic bring into perspective several themes, all of which are aimed at creating and shaping women's identity in what is today's patriarchal society. The main themes highlighted in these literary works are sexuality and motherhood; language and education; religion and power.
Gilman's novel, Herland attempts to create a picture of an all-female society that is independent and accomplished. The women of Herland are their own 'men' so to speak and continuously defy societal norms of what is the supposed everyday woman. In the book, the Herland women are characterized by the firm and athletic physic, short hair, dressing based on comfort rather than appeal, well educated, intelligent, articulate and have high self-esteem and therefore do not depend on validation by men. This makes them highly assertive and self-fulfilled. This is in complete contrast to Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. Here, the main character, a woman, is portrayed as weak and unable to make her own decisions. The book is centered around a woman who suffers from postpartum depression. Being a woman, she is not allowed any mental activity as society believes that it is the right remedy for depression.
Her husband John, a man of "high-standing," is part of the said society and he too is not left behind on this. He thus tells her that "... with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my goodwill and sense to check the tendency" (Pg. 13). In this narrative, John dismisses the narrator's opinions and belittles her creativity often referring to her as "little girl" and speaking of her as "Bless her little heart."
Herland's story and the plot are narrated by Vandyck "Van" Jennings who together with his two friends and companions (Terry O. Nicholson and Jeff Margrave) took on an expedition to an "uncharted land" alleged to be an all-female society. These allegations were, however, yet to be proven as the three friends could not come around the idea of reproduction occurring without the influence of a man. Van, a psychology student, is portrayed as the imperfect-perfect man and is the narrator who represents a neutral opinion, Terry is a typical male chauvinist who sees nothing good in Herland while Jeff is portrayed as a gentleman who sees women as 'weak' domestic angels who need to be continuously taken care. Gilman uses these three characters as a typical representation of a patriarchal society.
Gilman makes an unparalleled use of feminist language be it in the narration through the character Van or in the description of people places or physical structures. For instance, when the three women captured Van and his companions, they tried to resist entering what seemed to be an official building. Hence, "We were borne inside, struggling manfully, but held secure most womanfully, in spite of our best endeavors" (Gilman 23). The word 'womanfully' has been used here to focus on the Herlanders' strength (both physical and mental). It also epitomizes the inherent and unrelenting power of women. She has used such figurative and descriptive language to convey the meaning of life. Another instance of Gilman's choice of language is portrayed when Van ponders over the men's presumption of Herland. "And we had been cocksure as to the inevitable limitations, the faults and vices, of a lot of women" (81). The use of the word 'cocksure' brings a whole new meaning and perspective to it, seeing as Van and his friends based their assumptions and expectations of the new land solely on their power as men.
Gilman has also used Herland to convey the meaning of life. This is through the women's language, education, and articulation. Contrary to popular opinion, the women expressed themselves with such precision that it shocked Van and his friends. "It was not hard to speak, smooth and pleasant to the ear, and so easy to read and write I marveled at it. They had a phonetic system...[that]... bore all the marks of an old and rich civilization" (Gilman 31). This description implies that the language used in Herland was not gendered but based on the principle of inclusion in the sense that it allowed for a concurrent expression of the self as self and the self as an object.
While the women of Herland are viewed as articulate and well learned, the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper is considered to be immature, emotionally unstable, and having low cognitive skills. This notion poses women as mad and hysterical and therefore, inferior as a result of their wombs. This diagnosis was presented by unqualified and unprofessional physicians. In Herland, however, the women's womb is portrayed as their source of strength and power hence their ability to give birth all on their own. In this way, women can bring up a complete and autonomous society all on their own without the influence of men.
Gilman's Women and Economics (1898) studies the economic relationship between Women and men as an essential element in social evolution. Charlotte spoke to the people of the United States throughout the Progressive Era. Industrialization was a significant contributor to life and consequently led to significant changes. Women and Economics delve deeper into the challenges American women had to endure in a bid to achieve economic freedom. The underlying idea is that women almost always had to rely on the men to get by. This led to the loss of individuality and economic independence. "And, when the woman, left alone with no man to "support" her, tries to meet her economic necessities, the difficulties which confront her prove what the general economic status of the woman is. None can deny these patent facts, -that the economic status of women generally depends upon that of men, and that the economic status of women individually depends upon that of men personally, those men to whom they are related" (Pg. 10). This same notion can also be observed in Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, where the narrator is confined by the society's damaging definitions of a female. Women, in these two books, are not seen as authoritative or having the ability to rule over men
The central theme in Women Economics is the complete annihilation of gender roles. Gilman here conveys the meaning of life by urging women to change their cultural identity by adapting to social and political environments of changing times to survive. This is the Darwinian principle of "survival for the fittest."
These three literary works by Gilman portray a society in which if given a chance; women can rise beyond societal norms and gender roles. The main argument put forward by Charlotte Gilman was that of feminism and gender roles within a societal context. In essence, feminism is a concept that aims at promoting the equality of men and women in every aspect of life regardless of the situation or circumstance. With this in mind, she created a fictional utopian society which eliminated the presence of men or their influence over women. In all her books, (Herland, Women and Economics and The Yellow Wallpaper) Charlotte Gilman portrays the belief that women can only be equal to men if they are economically independent. These books represent the belief that women can be self-sufficient if they choose to be and that the unpaid labor that women performed in the home (cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing) was a form of oppression.
A stark contrast, however, exists in Gilman's books. In Herland, the women have for a long time managed to achieve complete independence over men in such a way that they live in a self-sufficient social system. The women live as one and have learned that the success of a society lies in cooperation and understanding. This is especially evident in matters of reproduction. Contrary to popular belief, after all, women were eliminated 2000 years ago, women could miraculously reproduce on their own. Gilman chose to illuminate the role that sexuality plays in reproduction. She points out that Herlanders were able to regenerate through pathogenesis. This is the process by which females conceive without male fertilization. This plays a vital role in feminism.
In the Yellow Wallpaper and Women and Economics, the women are yet to achieve complete independence and still depend on the men. In the Yellow Wallpaper, for instance, the narrator is seen to value her husband's opinion, which portrays the oppression of women in society.
Gilman's book, Herland, completely refutes Darwinian's concept of survival for fittest in society. Herlanders lack the competitiveness or the basic knowledge of competition as it is portrayed in their societal culture. They work as one, rare and raise their offspring as one (Gilman, Pg.60). This portrayal contrasts Gilman's Women and Economics, where women are forced to adapt to the social, political, and environmental changes to survive in a patriarchal society. Herlanders have learned to effectively coexist and live in harmony to create the best possible future for their offspring and co-exist well with nature (Gilman, 70)
Gilman, C. P. (2010). Herland. Pantheon.
Gilman, C. P. (2018). Women and economics. In Inequality in the 21st Century (pp. 31-33). Routledge.
Gilman, C. P. (1999). The yellow wallpaper (p. 328). Project Gutenberg.
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