The Theme Of Escape In “The Story Of An Hour” And “The Yellow Wallpaper”

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Both “The Story of an Hour” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” deal with the idea of being trapped, escaping, and oppression of women. In “The Story of an Hour,” Mrs Mallard learns of the supposed death of her husband and she is relieved. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator is trapped in a room with yellow wallpaper and she begins to feel restricted in the room. She progressively becomes crazy until she rips the wallpaper off believing there is a woman behind it. Both stories portray the idea of being trapped and wanting to escape in different perspectives. “The Yellow Wallpaper” uses first person and “The Story of an Hour” uses third person. Ultimately, first person is more effective than third person for portraying themes such as escape, being trapped, and the oppression of women in short stories.

Both “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story of an Hour” deal with the idea of being trapped. According to Merriam-Webster, the word “Trap” means something by which one is caught or stopped unawares. However, both of these stories go against that definition. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” The narrator’s mind is trapped inside the room and the room itself is confining her. In this story, her mind is trapping itself because she does not want to be in the surroundings that she is confined into. This causes her to plummet into a total mental breakdown– as she becomes crazy and tries to do anything to escape her own mind. “Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly and the pattern just enjoys it. All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision” (“The Yellow Wallpaper,” 655). The narrator becomes frustrated with the wallpaper and believes there is someone behind it so she begins to rip it to solve the mystery she has created in her head. This quote allows the reader to highlight where she acts on her thoughts in the short story, proving that she feels trapped and wants to escape. In “The Story of an Hour” it is a bit different; somewhat reversed. After learning about the supposed death of her husband, the narrator seems relieved and happy. It was as if she had been released from her restrictions now that her husband was gone. She felt like she was released from the trap. However, when she finds out that he is alive, it’s like her whole body is put back into those chains that she was released from, and she cannot live a restricted life so she drops to the ground. “There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy, arm-chair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul” (“The Story of an Hour,” 246). This quote implies that Mrs Mallard felt stressed and pushed down by a form of exhaustion. This exhaustion was her husband being around, possibly bossing her around and not allowing her to be free, and she is now relieved of this pain as he has supposedly passed away. We can assume that she feels free based on this quote alone because the quote describes Mrs. Mallard in a relaxed way using words such as “open,” “comfortable,” and “roomy” to describe her surroundings, implying that she is calm at this moment in time. This quote helps to reveal that she was once trapped and chained by her husband and now that she has been released she is relieved.

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Escape is another common theme present in both “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story of an Hour”. Both women in the stories want to get away from their husbands, likely due to oppression. An example of this is seen in “The Yellow Wallpaper” as the narrator says, “So I walk a little in the garden or down that lovely lane, sit on the porch under the roses, and lie down up here a good deal. I’m getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper… I lie here on this great immovable bed — it is nailed down, I believe” (“The Yellow Wallpaper,” 650). The bed would not be described by the narrator as immovable if she didn’t want to move. She also uses the world “nailed” which is when something is stuck in the ground and cannot be moved. By saying this, the narrator helps readers to understand that she has tried to and wants to move it. “‘I’ve got out at last,’ said I, ‘in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!’'(“The Yellow Wallpaper,”656). This quote allows to see how the narrator believes that she is free when in reality she is not. She believes that she has finally escaped by ripping the wallpaper, when in reality she was envisioning someone behind the wallpaper causing her to go crazy and she is still confined even after ripping the wallpaper. In “The Story of an Hour” Mrs. Mallard is happy when she finds that her husband is dead. She feels like a weight has been lifted off her body and she feels unbound. The quote “When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’” (“The Story of an Hour,” 246) provides us with evidence that she feels unconfined after the passing of her husband. We know this because of the use of the word “free” which she repeats three times, proving that she feels unchained and that she has been let loose from the restraints her husband put on her.

The final theme that is featured in both “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story of an Hour” is the oppression of women. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator often talks about the women stuck between the wall as if they had been forced and imprisoned in it. The narrator could have just imagined that it was anybody behind the wall but she specifies that it is a woman. This is a key element in the story because it allows us to see the oppression of women during this time through the eyes of a woman who was forced to be where she is in the story. This quote “Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over. […] And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern–it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads” (The Yellow Wallpaper, 654) helps the reader to recognize that it is a woman behind the wall that has been trapped. We know she is trapped by the use of “strangles”, implying that she is restricted and has been placed behind the wall. This next quote helps us to also understand that the narrator believes that all women creep proving that women are oppressed during this time. “It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight” (“The Yellow Wallpaper,” 654). In “The Story of an Hour” Mrs Mallard is happy when her husband supposedly passes away because she feels relieved, allowing the reader to infer that she had been oppressed in the future. The quote that shows this is “She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will – as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been. When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’ (“The Story of an Hour,” 246). These quotes help the reader to figure out that women are oppressed in these stories, however the use of first person allows the reader to understand what is going on clearly and more directly which makes it more effective.


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