American Feminism in Literature (late 1800s)

American Feminism in Literature
(late 1800s)
Kate Chopin
The Awakening
“The Story of an Hour”
Women Know Your Limits
 Women break free of the “Romantic” mold that had come to define
their gender in popular fiction
 Instead of female characters fulfilling the secondary roles assigned to
them by male authors, women (and their particular struggle) are
given center stage and an interior life by a new and emerging group
of authors: women
 While writing in authentic, often local colors, they also portray the
universal struggle for female independence—sometimes openly but
often quite subtly given the cultural climate
 Sarah Orne Jewett’s A Country Doctor (1884) lays foundation
 Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) is a watershed moment
Social Norms for Women
• Emphasis on female purity
• ideal of the "true woman" as wife, mother, and keeper of the
• the home was the basis of morality and a sanctuary free from
the corruption of the city. As guardian of the home and
family, women were believed to be more emotional,
dependent, and gentle by nature.
• This perception of femininity led to the popular conclusion
that women were more susceptible to disease and illness, and
was a basis for the diagnosis of insanity in many female
patients during the 19th century.
• Rather than being viewed as a bad and immoral woman,
honor and reputation could be maintained by the diagnosis of
a medical condition and commitment to an asylum.
He Thinks He’ll Keep Her
What does it mean to be a “kept woman”
• 19th century upper and middle class women
were completely dependent on their husbands
and fathers, and their lives revolved around their
role as respectable daughter, housewife, and
• With so little power, control, and independence,
depression, anxiety, and stress were common
among women struggling to cope with a static
existence under the thumb of strict gender ideals
and unyielding patriarchy.
Those Crazy Ladies
Hysteria and Madness
• Heredity, environment, gender, class, and 'sinful'
behavior were commonly identified as causes of
mental illness.
• Classification of insanity, treatment methods, and
asylum design were based on these same principles.
Physicians believed that they could cure patients if they
could alter the physical environment by removing a
patient from the city, or by stopping a then
unacceptable behavior or by surgically removing parts
of the body or brain.
Not to make light of mental illness
• Women did suffer from depression, anxiety, and the
likes that in fact are recognized mental illnesses.
• However, those who spoke out against their defined
roles were often deemed as having a mental problem.
• Authors such as Dorothy Parker, Sylvia Plath, Anne
Sexton, or Susanna Kaysen all attempted or committed
suicide may very well be a reflection of the struggle to
break free from gender stereotypes.
• Kate Chopin’s Edna Pontellier certainly struggles with
breaking free from social norms, those expectations for
wife, mother, woman.
The Awakening and “The Story of an
• How specifically does Edna rebel against social
conventions in The Awakening and “The Story
of an Hour?
• How does her rebellion manifest specifically?
• Which of her actions seem most shocking to
her community?
• What is the “joy that kills”?
• From both works, summarize what is Chopin
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
 1860-1935
 Born into one of the “great” families of the 19th century
 “Family” is the problem in both her life and her work
 Father abandons family and leaves them destitute
 Mother was cold and unable to show Charlotte affection
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
 1884: Marries a Bohemian artist who is nevertheless
“traditional” in his views on gender
 1885: Gives birth to a daughter (her only child) and
begins suffering from post-partum depression
 Visits S. Wier Mitchell—a famous specialist in “hysteria”
 “The Yellow Wall-paper” (1892) is a psychological and
suspenseful tale of isolation and insanity based largely
on Gilman’s own experience with the “rest cure”
Dr. S. Wier Mitchell
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
 Remain in bed for 6 weeks to 2 months
 No sitting up for the first 4-5 weeks
 No sewing, writing, reading, or the use of
one’s hands other than to clean the teeth
 Bowels may be passed while lying down
 Patient may be lifted onto a lounge for an
hour in the morning and again at bedtime
and then lifted back into a newly made bed
“The Yellow Wall-Paper”
 Written in 1890, but not published until 1892
 Told from the point of view of a nameless female protagonist
who undergoes the rest cure, in an ancestral home, while on
vacation with her husband, who also happens to be a doctor
 She is there with her baby (whom we never see) and her sisterin-law (who is a helper)
 She spends all her time in the bedroom (which once was a
nursery) and writes (secretively) about her increasing
fascination with the strange yellow wallpaper
 She begins to see odd patterns in it; then to identify with it;
and finally to enter into the “fantasy” world it generates
Descent into Madness … or
Escape into Freedom?
 From what is the narrator suffering?
 Why, how, and to whom is she writing?
 What is the wallpaper?
 What does it look like?
 How does the narrator perceive it?
 How does it behave?
 What is the conflict?
 What is the plot?
 Fascination>Identification>Transformation
Triumph of Imagination … or
Tragedy of Society?
 Does the room have a history
 Symbolic? Ironic?
 Symbolism?
 Wallpaper? Window? Names?
 Motif ?
 Style? Phrases? Descriptions?
 Style?
 Sentences? Voice? Plot?
 Irony of the ending
 Is she freed by her imagination or trapped inside it?
 Has she locked others out or locked herself in?