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Literature and Linguistics

Updated: Jan 5, 2018

The Portrayal of Female Repression in the 1890s American Literature--Using The Yellow Wallpaper and A Story of An Hour as cases

A textual analysis under the concept of linguistics deviance, using Prime Machine as tool, The Yellow Wallpaper* and A Story of An Hour* as cases.

‘Door’ here is not an object, but the symbolism of women’s freedom, though the patriarch will infringe it to maintain their privilege.

In The Yellow Wallpaper:

  • I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can't do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once. I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path.

  • It would be a shame to break down that beautiful door!

  • Then he said--very quietly indeed, "Open the door, my darling!"

  • "I can't," said I. "The key is down by the front door under a plantain leaf!"

  • And then I said it again, several times, very gently and slowly, and said it so often that he had to go and see, and he got it of course, and came in. He stopped short by the door.

Searched in Prime Machine, ‘door’, in most cases, is within the cluster of ‘the door opened’ as a part of a sentence. By contrast, in The Yellow Wallpaper, the door is used after ‘front’, “stopped short by” and most importantly, ‘locked’ and ‘break down’. Relating these collocations to the whole plot, females’ struggle for freedom under patriarchal oppression is identifiable.

The reason why the female protagonist (the narrator) “locked the door” is because of her husband’s wrong treatment on her illness. As a therapist, he prescribes her a total rest by restricting her in a room of an isolated house and forbidding her from doing anything, including writing-- her occupation. Thus, locking the ‘door’ is not only a way for her to record some random thoughts, but also an approach in which she gains autonomy.

The ‘door’ of this room, in this case, can be reckoned as a threshold between the narrator herself and the masculine control. However, ironically, she has to confine herself physically to achieve a spiritual liberation, which amplifies the difficulty for women during 1890s to develop independent thinking rather than being dominated by their husbands. “Open the door”, on the other hand, is articulated by the narrator’s husband as an imperative sentence with an undisputable tone of order. “Break down…door” and “stopped short by the door” connote how males approach to deprive women’s freedom. Therefore, ‘door’ here is not an object, but a symbol of women’s urge to independence, though males will infringe it to maintain their privilege.

In The Story of an Hour:

  • Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for admission. “Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door—you will make yourself ill. For heaven’s sake open the door.”

  • She arose at length and opened the door to her sister’s importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory.

  • Some one was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella.

The similar situation is also with The Story of an Hour. After knowing Mr. Mallard might die from an accident, Mrs. Louise Mallard (the female protagonist) quickly moves from grief to the great excitement at her freedom. This so-called “monstrous joy” is intrigued by her repressed domestic identity (Tseng, 2014, p34). Even though there is no direct explanation on how exactly her husband restricts her in the text, the phrases such as “a dull stare in her eyes”, “as powerless as” and “look of terror” indicate her repression as a wife.

Instead of using “the door opened” as an action that is commonly exerted by a subject as usual, in this story, ‘door’ determines if Mrs. Mallard can enjoy her liberation or not. The first ‘door’ collocation “closed door” leads Louise to a safe place to express her exhilaration. Considering the patriarchal context, if Louise unveils her thrill in public, she will definitely be accused of being immoral and deviant. Closing the ‘door’, thus, separates her from “her social world” and “social conventions” (Jamil, 2010, p217).

However, the following three “open the door” imply an imperative tone, interrupting her indulgence in the precious freedom. This order is addressed by her sister who fears Louise might hurt herself out of pain, which seems careful and thoughtful. To me, however, it displays females’ inferiority even further, since it as well suggests that women develop no understandings on one another’s longing to privacy and autonomy, but insist to offer their unnecessary company. Reflectively, females’ misery during that period is caused both by the masculine oppression and even women themselves’ lacking in comprehension towards each other's needs.


Jamil, S.S. (2010) “Emotions in the story of an hour,” The Explicator, 67(3), pp. 215–220. doi: 10.3200/expl.67.3.215-220.

Tseng, M. C-C. (2014), “Joy That Kills": Female Jouissance in Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour””, Short Story, 22 (2), pp. 29-38, Literary Reference Center, EBSCOhost, viewed 9 April 2017


*The Yellow Wallpaper tells a woman, who is also the narrator, is diagnosed by her physician husband as having depression. Her husband suggests to spend a summer in an isolated house and confines her in a large room on the top floor, prohibiting her from doing any work including writing, which is her occupation. The room is covered with yellow wallpaper that she can look at everyday after being deprived of any company. With the female protagonist’s mental problem getting worse, she convinces herself that there is a woman behind the wallpaper who is trying to get out. During the last day in this house, she turns into total frenzy; she strips the yellow wall paper and envisions herself as the one who is creeping out from it.

*The Story of an Hour portrays the anxiety and tension of a woman under patriarchal suppression. Being told that her husband might be died from a train crashing, Louise Mallard, the female protagonist, is occupied with grief firstly. However, another thought comes up to her mind -- she can finally live for herself rather than being restricted from the domestic confinement. She then locks herself in the room, embracing the exhilaration of freedom. It finally turns out that her husband is alive. When he is entering home, which is unknown to Louise, she suddenly dies out of joy.

#feminism #literature #linguistics #deviant #close-reading

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