Feminism’s continual push for equality for men and women has grown and has become more successful. Women have abandoned the traditional roles of submissive housewives that was prevalent in the early 20th century. Early representations of women in literature were often stereotypical and unjust, but the characterization of women in literature has changed now. However, in the early 1900s that type of writing was predominant, in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman, A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor and Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway were writers that disregarded feminist concerns in their stories and demonstrated how feministic views affected society as a whole. Gilman utilizes feminist criticism within her story The Yellow Wallpaper. The narrator states, “I did write for a while in spite of them—having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition” (Gilman).
Writing represents the independent female side of the narrator. Through writing the narrator expresses her emotions and thoughts which makes her feel like an independent women. The main character writes, “I kept still and watched the moonlight on that undulating wall-paper till I felt creepy…the faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out (Gilman).” The wallpaper represents the narrator’s life. The wallpaper and its pattern demonstrate the independent role of the narrator and how the narrator slowly breaks away from her inferior role as a wife and realizes she should not be trapped. She realizes she does not need anyone to make decisions for her. Gilman demonstrates how prominent feminism was within the society she lived in by the characterization of the narrator’s husband, John, who acts a superior role in their marriage. “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” (Gilman).
This quote implies that by being laughed at, the narrator is being brought down by the male figure. Through Johns action readers can infer that he is very prejudiced against women being that he expresses superiority in his marriage. “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction” (Gilman).
This reveals that he has complete control over her. Through the use of feminist criticism readers can understand how society viewed women and their beliefs. The Yellow Wallpaper is from a feminist standpoint that is a analysis on the state of women in the late 1800s, and perhaps even of the author’s own struggles with a society run by males. In a A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor shows a family vacation that quickly meets a violent end by a criminal known as “The Misfit.” Many allow the violence of the story to highlight the purest moment of the Grandmother, however, the redemption story throws a shadow on the story’s treatment of women in society. The female characters in this story conform to a patriarchal view of how a woman should act, and the story’s conclusion suggests that woman must be saved, and woman can only be guided to redemption with help from “a good man.”Readers see the use of traditional gender roles right from the start of the story. When O’Connor describes the Grandmother’s living conditions, readers can see woman’s heavy reliance on men.
She states, “Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy”(O’Connor). This suggests that while the Grandmother has other children, because Bailey is the only male, she sees him as being the only one to provide her with proper living conditions because none of her female children can provide for her like a man. The grandmother incorporated the norms and values of society, which is that men are superior. In the beginning of the story, women are perceived as being irrational and emotional.
When the grandmother opposes the Florida trip( a possibly location of the Misfit, she tells Bailey: “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it.”(O’Connor). The Grandmother expresses her emotions on how she will feel if something happens, instead of logically thinking about the chances they might run into The Misfit.Although he is young, John Wesley has no respect for his elders, and does not see his Grandmother as an equal. He has the status of a male, which allows him to talk to her however he likes.
Wesley shows more traditional male behavior when the grandmother asks him what he would do if The Misfit caught him. He replies to his grandmother, “I’d smack his face,” giving the question no thought. He immediately jumps to the macho masculine persona in which will result in violence (O’Connor). He shows more intolerant male behavior in the car, when he will not let his sister win a game. He would rather fight and argue than admit a loss to a girl. John disguises his insecurity at the loss by becoming hostile and aggressive. John’s behavior reveals his social programming into dominant masculinity.
His disrespectful attitude towards women (his grandmother and his sister) and his violent attitude at such an early age, reveal his prejudice towards women and his views on equality of women, which society pushed upon him. Many controversial issues surround women’s crusade of freedoms including the widely debated right to choose what she does to her body, referring to an abortion. Ernest Hemingway’s story, Hills Like White Elephants, expressed a feminist movement focusing around feministic views with society. Through the character’s development and ability to come to her own decision despite her boyfriend’s constant pressure suggests a powerful feminist theme in a society dominated by men. Through the mere ordering of drinks, Hemingway demonstrates, the gender roles of male dominance and female submissiveness. The first line of conversation is the female asking her boyfriend, “What should we drink?”(Hemingway). The male character orders drinks for the both of them, proving his dominance and the girl asking her boyfriend demonstrates her submission.
The controlling manner displayed by the male character through ordering drinks is a stepping-stone into his relentless pushing for his girlfriend to receive the abortion. His oppressive nature is not only reflected at the bar but more importantly he displays a prejudiced attitude in regards to the abortion. Several times the man mentions the simplicity involved in operation to coerce Jig into having such a risky procedure, “It’s really a simple operation, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in” (Hemingway).
The very end of the story completes Jig’s development as she decides against having an abortion. This is symbolized through the boyfriend statement, “I’d better take the bags over to the other side of the station”(Hemingway). He realizes in her refusal to further speak about the abortion that she has made a decision which will lead them to the other side. Jig smiles showing the satisfaction she felt for asserting herself, making her own decision and the obvious excitement involved with becoming a mother. Jig advances her feminist development through the last line in the story, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine” (Hemingway). This quote refers to the pregnancy and that there is nothing wrong with having a child, and deciding upon it by herself.
Jig’s response of “I feel fine” completely understates her real feeling of pride over her boyfriend and society’s emphasis on men dominating women. Women today still struggle with expectations of compliance to men’s demands even with years of struggle to become powers in industry, politics and the workforce. Gilman, O’Connor and Hemingway empathized with women’s plight in a time when women were confined to traditional roles.
In their time period, society was built with feministic views, however, through literature, they were able to accomplish and stand up for women and their right to equality. In today’s society, the “male superior” persona has decreased vastly and women have gained more equality compared to in the 20th century.