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Power of FemininityResearch Paper

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Femininity and Freedom Explored in Wharton, Chopin, And Perkins

The history of women is nothing is it is not eventful and surprising. Women throughout the ages prove that in order to see progress, one must be willing to chase it and subdue it. This is not always an easy journey but it is possible and it begins with acknowledging change as an integral part of life. Edith Wharton, Kate Chopin, and Charlotte Perkins were brave women in their day because they wrote about issues women faced and to speak out against the constraints society placed upon women, they created memorable characters. "Roman Fever," "Regret," "The Story of an Hour," and "The Yellow Wallpaper" introduces us to women characters fighting against societal codes and, as a result, represents common problems faced by modern women attempting to break free from the constraints of society. They provide insight into the power of femininity as well as demonstrating the strength and determination necessary to achieve success.

In "Roman Fever," we see the craftiness of the female come into play with Alida Slade and Grace Ansley. Both women are products of their environment in that they derive a great deal of self-worth from their husbands and families. This is clear when Mrs. Slade finds life as a widow boring and, "In living up to such a husband all her faculties had been engaged; now she had only her daughter to live up to" (Wharton). The women's conversation is interesting because it reveals an underlying jealousy between the women. The revelation at the end of the story uncovers just how crafty women can be, even when it appears they are living in a society that holds them back. Mrs. Ansley thinks she is clever but, in the end, she is nothing but a doting wife that gets the proverbial wool pulled over her eyes for a quarter of a century. Brooke Allen writes that Wharton had an extramarital affair and a divorce, so she knew what she was writing about when she penned this story. However, she "remained a relatively conventional woman throughout her life and even, by some standards, a conservative one" (Allen). Regardless, her stories are "always on the side of the individual who rebels, however feebly, against imprisoning social norms" (Allen). Wharton knew what it meant to be a women and she knew how difficult it could be. These two rivals illustrate just one facet of life women from every century must deal with at least once in their lives.

In "Regret," Mamzelle Aurelie appears to be moving in the opposite direction of Louise. While she possesses the freedom Louise can only dream about, it does not seem to be as fulfilling as one might guess by looking at Louise. Mamzelle Aurelie is annoyed with children in the beginning of the story. She is described with masculine traits and her life as an independent woman is well defined. Odile and four children irritate her at first. They are unwelcome and she does not know how to behave around children. For example, she shoos them to be "chickens into the hen-house" (Chopin). She even admits that she would rather mange a "dozen plantations" (Chopin) than four children. This seems independent and contemporary enough but Mamzelle Aurelie changes by the end of the story. She grows "quite used to" (Chopin) the things, that irritated her and "she no longer complained" (Chopin) about the children. The story concludes with her weeping over the loss she feels now that she is alone. The freedom she once loved was ruined by the realization of what kind of happiness family can bring. This flies in the face of Louise, who is attempting, with every fiber in her, to grasp at the kind of life where she is not tied down to any man or anyone, for that matter. When she hears of her husband's death, she does not cry, she opens her arms and "spread her arms out" (Chopin 636). Moreover, we are told that her "pulse beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body" (636). This untimely death becomes a way in which Louise can find a new life. Chopin appreciated the freedom of a single life. Her husband died when she was still quite young and had a family to raise. Ironically, Chopin was not a feminist the way we think of them today. Per Seyersted writes she was never a member of any women's rights organizations and she actually avoided such affiliations. This is probably because she thought feminists of her day were "unrealistic when they so closely allied themselves with efforts to elevate men to their own supposedly very high level of purity" (Seyersted). Chopin's thought women "largely had the same drives as man and therefore also should have his 'rights'"(Seyersted). She lived this as she never did remarry and she made enough money so that she never had to depend upon a man for anything.

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator faces strong opposition of her husband, which is bad enough. However, the presence of Jennie creates extra tension in the household because Jennie seems to be content with her submissive female role. The narrator is aware of Jennie, just as Jennie is aware of her, noting the she "sees everything now" (765). Jennie is fulfilling the role that the narrator should be with her attention to the home and to the narrator. The narrator realizes that Jennie is good, for the most part, but she also knows that she reports to John about the things she notices about his wife. Jennie wants to sleep with the narrator to increase her awareness and provide John with a more complete report but the narrator convinces her that she sleeps better alone. The narrator in this story is doing everything within her control to make a break from her old life but Jennie is a major stumbling block to that progress because she does not relate to the narrator on any level. Jennie cannot comprehend what is happening any more than John and, while her intensions may be good, she is not helping the situation at all because she is not thinking from the perspective of a woman, she is adopting John's perspective. Perkins' point-of-view is startling but it helps to know that she suffered with depression. In her essay, "Why I Wrote 'The Yellow Wallpaper,'" she admits to having a "severe and continuous nervous breakdown" (Perkins). She did not seek treatment for three years and while her doctor was the "best known in the country" (Perkins), he could not help her because he did not see anything wrong with her. Perkins tried three months of bed rest until she felt "so near the border line of utter mental ruin that I could see over" (Perkins). She knew the only way she was going to be saved is if she did it herself. She was brave enough to take her life into her own hands and the results were life and recovery. She did indeed recover but it was without the assistance of any doctor.

These female characters have problems to overcome and issues to face if they are to get on with their lives. In most instances, it is up to them to make things right and acceptable for them because no one else is going to do it for them. In "Roman Fever," we see a lack of trust between two friends and we see the danger and power of secrets. Both of these women were behaving selfishly almost their entire lives and in the end, both were deceived. Chopin gives us women that are struck with an epiphany about their lives. They are shocked to realize what they discover about themselves and they are left with choices… [END OF PREVIEW]

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