People encounter restrictions and restraints daily: doors, walls, gates. The most frequently used and arduous are those that are intangible, be it in a job or social life, whether physical or emotional, literal or figurative. Both the tangible and intangible are seen in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and John Steinbeck’s “The Crysanthemums”. Though written by members of the opposite sex, both authors are able to capture the feelings of physical and emotional imprisonment that causes a gradual mental breakdown.
The Yellow Wallpaper” traces the treatment of a woman who descends from depression to madness in the male-imposed psychiatric confinement of her room, while the wife, Elisa, in “The Crysanthemums”, reflects an internal struggle with herself to find her place in a world of definite gender roles. The situations of the two women are similar: talents and dreams, hopes and desires, shunned by the husbands and times of the women, which leads to hysteria; though similar, the women to conduct themselves ways drastically different from one another, which determines whether the women lose their sanity.
The narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Elisa Allen of “The Crysanthemums” both have husbands who fancy the idea of knowing what their wives want and need. With such attitudes and beliefs, these men contribute to the feeling of confinement that ultimately leads to the loss of sanity of their wives. The narrator’s husband also assumes that he knows what is best for his wife. He thinks isolation and confinement will cure her “nervous depression. ” Nevertheless, this “cure” makes her weak; it transforms her into a woman gone mad.
On the way to dinner, Elisa asks her husband about the fights and his immediate reply is, “We can go if you want, but I don’t think you would like them much. ” He cannot fathom the idea that she may actually enjoy this non-feminine event. The two women follow the pattern of those going mad: eventually, they begin to see things and form relationships with the images that reside only in their minds. The narrator gives into the figments of her imagination and begins to metamorphose this “thing” she imagines behind the wallpaper as a hallucinogenic image of herself.
This “woman” becomes a deadly combination: best friend and worst enemy. She views the woman as trapped, and, in order to free herself from this non-fulfilling life, she must free the woman. Elisa also receives an uninvited guest, a tinker who she perceives as the perfect emblem of freedom. His life is on the road, in the wild-outside the fence. She, like the narrator, feels a need, a desire, to help this outsider in order to liberate ones self. Vivid pictures and visions of a life with no barriers, boundaries, or limitations, run free in the minds of both of the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Elisa Allen.
These women begin to view objects as both symbols of entrapment and of license. Within the confinements of her “prison,” this once busy and bothersome pattern of the yellow wallpaper begins to straighten out. It becomes almost bar-like, and with the walls and the windows, this “soothing” room turns into a reformatory from which she must abscond. Outside the windows, through the bars, the narrator finds a path, a channel of hope that she knows is her alliance with the world.
She envies those able to follow it, find the end and depart onto the road of life. Elisa must also break free; decamp from the boundary, the fence that is enclosing her in the stationary, non-progressive life. She sees hope, a way to expand, through her joy, her love, her talent, her crysanthemums. By sharing her love with others, she is actually leaving, going somewhere, helping someone, on the other side of the fence. These women must elect whether they will linger on in misery or opt for the chance at bliss.
When inner happiness is not obtained and the ailment is not remedied, life comes to a halt, not quite an end, and the women are presented with options for dealing with the current situation. The women in these stories opted to take different paths in the hopes of finding inner joy. The narrator, who once wanted the help free the women in the wallpaper, wants to be free herself, she will settle for nothing less. By ripping down the wallpaper and abolishing the bars that once surrounded her, she feels autonomous; no one or nothing will obstruct the path of freedom, of independence, except for the stipulations of her own mind.
In this quest she loses all that keeps her sane, she has transposed into a woman gone mad. Elisa Allen, on the other hand, tries to achieve her desire to be free by extending outward in the hope of receiving outside acknowledgement. The tinker is to transport some crysanthemums to a woman in town. Elisa’s hunger and strive for achievement is diminished when she witnesses her crysanthemums on the ground crushed and destroyed. She, unlike the narrator, settles for what is within her reach and concludes with a glass of wine at dinner.
The women Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and John Steinbeck’s “The Crysanthemums” both show ambition and the drive to become more. Within their lives, barriers must be crossed in order for fulfillment to be achieved. Their husbands, the fence, and the wallpaper, are all constraints that must be depleted. Their strive for happiness and zest for a life far more exciting than the present is what gives the narrator and Elisa Allen an awakening to which they must react.