Female oppression is one of the major themes in the literary work of Kate Chopin, Perkins Gilman and John Steinbeck. The authors wrote in different times, however, the reality for women was pretty much the same. Oppression and neglect of their rights was all they could count on. The rights were not merely neglected, they were never confessed. The women were used by men and that is most clearly seen in the “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck. Elisa Allen makes her best attempt to be a good wife, but formal approach is what she gets in return. Her husband considers her unworthy of taking seriously. He does not care to notice her state of mind or the mood she is in. Thus, at the moment, when she is entirely broken, when she is disappointed and tired, when she realizes how miserable her life used to be, he finds nothing better than saying that she looked “different, strong and happy.” (Steinbeck, 1937).
Almost a half a century before Steinbeck’s story Kate Chopin, a female writer, dared to publish a set of short stories, in which she attracted attention to the problems, experienced by women, their oppressed position, their inability to be independent in their lives. One bright example is “A Pair of Silk Stockings” by Kate Chopin, a story, in which she depicts MRS. Sommers, a women, who, just like Steinbeck’s Elisa, dedicated her entire life to being a good wife. Her marriage gave her nothing in return. Her only reward for being a good, patient wife was the poverty, into which her husband brought her, a woman, who used to come from quite a good family. The poverty is so severe, that MRS. Sommers, having got a hold of 15 Dollars dreams of spending this money on her children, so that they would “Look fresh and dainty and new for once in their lives.” (Chopin, 1890). A dream, quite fantastic for a woman with her background. But having gone out, she “goes out of the leash». She has never dared to spend anything on herself, and this was silently accepted. A wife was not expected to have desires of her own. But now, as she theoretically assumed the opportunity of possessing all these beauties, the silk stockings and other luxurious items, she could not resist the temptation, once in her life she could not. And she went almost crazy, at least, unable to control herself in her desire to have more and more of it all. Thus, in spite of her initial desire, she ended up spending all the money on her own self, which was, for the era, quite a crazy move.
Similarly insane ends up being the protagonist of Perkins Gilman’s “Yellow Wallpaper”, a symbolic piece by another American female writer of the end of XIX century. The lady is also one of those wives, good wives’ for their husbands, so good that they are simply left unnoticed. They do not dare articulate their desires or even have ones. And whatever their husbands tell them to desire, they have to desire. In this case the husband wants to show his care, but being ignorant of his wife’s desires he takes her to a place, which, instead of providing her with rest, drives her insane. She had no life of her own outside of her family. But lastly she went insane. And her insanity is quite symbolic. She goes crazy and goes out of her world, of her home, and this is the repetition, she repeats in her insanity: “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane” (Perkins Gilman, 1899). Her craziness’ in her daring to go against her family, in the desire to have wishes of her own.
These authors, as well as a number of other authors of the era provided the female movement with the power, allowed the entire country hear the voices of the oppressed. This is why these pieces are of such significance for the entire western culture of modern time.
- Chopin, Kate. “A pair of Silk Stokings”. Originally published in “Vogue”. September 1897.
- Perkins Gilman, Charlotte. “Yellow Wallpaper”. Originally published in 1899.
Steinbeck, John. “The Chrysantemums”. First published 1937.