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Naturalism appears in many literary works that were conceived during a period when it took precedence as a philosophical thought in the society. Writers were influenced by this movement, and their works became an embodiment of this philosophy. The Yellow Wallpaper and Sister Carrie address themes that are relevant in the society, and the authors drive these themes using naturalistic sentiments. They use events, actions, aspirations and fears that are common with people, and these works give readers a good grounding in understanding the community. The differences and similarities in the two works are also evident, and the reader can relate the works with the situations surrounding the characters to understand the society. These stories draw the world of women in words; the authors address the plight of females in a manner that makes people get thinking about the positions in which women are placed. These works are politics defending the empowerment of women.
Key words: The Yellow Wallpaper, Sister Carrie, naturalism, empowerment of women
The Yellow Wallpaper and Sister Carrie
Naturalism is a literary movement that started in the 1880s and ended in the 1940s. It concentrated at the society; and the proposers of this movement claimed that such aspects as heredity and environment have had a very significant influence on the destiny and character of humans. Authors who wrote in that period, depicted many realistic society norms that shaped the relations of people in those settings. They looked at many aspects of human life including politics, religion and even economics; and they used these aspects to communicate in their literary masterpieces. The works written in this period contain a lot of realism since the two concepts go hand in hand. Naturalist sentiments appear in all aspects of themes, styles and characterizations in The Yellow Wallpaper and Sister Carrie. The two works of literature present a lot of social realities in that era which can still be applied to the contemporary society. These works contain timeless depictions of the communal factors in various societies.
Representation of Naturalism
Naturalism is represented in many ways in the two works. First, in The Yellow Wallpaper, the author, Charlotte Perkin Gilman describes a woman whose place in the society is dictated by the husband. The husband feels that the woman should be subjected to a resting cure to end her mild sickness. This is relevant in the society presented by Charlotte, since women were expected to be subordinate to men (Charlotte, 2007). In fact, the author introduces a situation where the husband (he is a doctor) prescribes a resting cure to his wife. Therefore, the woman appears to be in a helpless situation. The only thing that she can do is to search for ways to kill the time in the confinement in her room. As a result of being absolutely closed this woman loses her mind and by the end of the story becomes completely insane.
In Sister Carrie, Carrie nurtures her ambitions to go to the city and make her dreams come true. She feels confined in her small town and thinks that she has to go and seek her dreams in the city. However, there she understands that life is not that easy, and she has to work very hard to sustain herself. Eventually, she finds out that she has to rely upon the wealthy men for her upkeep. This is a naturalist sentiment in that era; women are inferior and they must lean on men for material and emotional support. Carrie has some romantic affairs with different men, and she is driven to these desires by the men’s positions of affluence. However, in the end, Carrie realizes that nothing could make her happy (Theodore, 2008).
Naturalist Themes in the two Works
The two stories have a lot of naturalist themes that the authors sought to present. First, the two authors seemed to advance the ideas that human life is a dynamic concept; people can move from one place in the society to another, because life is full of transitions. However, this transition follows a number of processes, and this change can also be stopped. In The Yellow Wallpaper, the woman moves from a state of mental sanity to insanity as a result of her confinement in the room with the yellow wallpaper. This woman enters this mental prison as a person of sound mind, but the husband insists that the woman should rest. This is a compulsory imprisonment of the woman, and she seeks ways of making herself occupied. She starts writing a diary, and this helps her a lot. However, she gets into a state of mental idleness, and finds it funny to trace lines in the yellow wallpaper (Charlotte, 2007). She is so much obsessed with tracing the complex pattern of lines, that they make her going insane. Some critiques argue that the mind of this woman followed the lines and, thus, became confused.
Sister Carrie also shows people moving from one social class to another. Carrie starts off as a very poor person who has to work a lot in order to uphold herself in the city. However, she is a talented actress whose charms in the stage are yet to be discovered. Therefore, she explodes the stage once she gets the chance to do this. She prospers in her acting career and becomes a very rich woman. On the other had (in the same book), there is George Hurstwood, a very rich man who supports Carrie (Theodore, 2008). However, his expensive and extravagant lifestyle cleans him off all his possessions. Eventually, this man becomes a beggar and commits suicide in the end.
The theme of struggle is also prevalent in the two works. In The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator struggles to understand the complex patterns of the yellow wallpaper. She strains her mind so much since this is the only object that captures her attention, and she ends up going mad (Charlotte, 2007). This woman also writes her journal, and this proves that she is struggling to end the mental inactivity which she is subjected into. This struggle makes her to imagine a lot of things. She pictured the yellow wallpaper emitting a strong, yellow stench that is making her uncomfortable. She also believes that there is another woman captivated in the complex patterns of the cave; the patterns form a cell in which the other woman is held. This makes her to remember the days when she used to form images from abstract patterns in the darkness. It proofs that the character is succumbing to insanity. She starts to tear the yellow wallpaper apart in an attempt to free the unnamed woman in the patterns of the yellow wallpaper.
Carrie, in Sister Carrie, also struggles a lot in her journey to success. She holds many jobs and works hard to advance. Although she is helped by men, she makes the greatest contribution when she gets to the stage and does an amazing performance which becomes her star hour.
Comparison and Contrast
The themes presented in The Yellow Wallpaper and Sister Carrie are similar in the way they seem to focus on women. In that era, women were believed to be inferior, and they were subjected to a lot of oppressive conditions in the society. In both works, the women characters are not expected to contribute a lot to the economic well-being of the family and the state; men are the ones obliged to do this. Therefore, they are in a great disadvantage, since they are not empowered to do many things. For instance, the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper is confined in a small room; and Carrie, in Sister Carrie, has to seek assistance from men to support her financially (Theodore, 2008).
However, the two stories differ in a way that the main character in The Yellow Wallpaper, seeks for self-liberation but ends up going mad; and in Sister Carrie, seeks for success and she gets it. The stories also differ in that the character in The Yellow Wall Paper works herself to madness while Carrie in Sister Carrie is compelled by men towards success. It is important to note that, in both stories, men shape the destinies of the two women. However, in one case, they lead to the downfall of one woman; while in the other case they lead to the success of the other. In the two stories, men act as the headers in the lives of women, but women also shape their destiny. However, the first woman (narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper) destroys herself, but Carrie uses the chances provided to compel herself to richness and success.
The concerns of the two authors reflect a lot of naturalist sentiments. They expressed their works in a manner that sought to represent the realities of the society. They succeeded, because they focused on things that are indispensable in any society. During those times, the issue of women empowerment prevailed, because women were subjected to a constant discrimination.