Abuse can come in several forms and is never restricted to just being physical; abuse can also affect one’s sexual, mental, and emotional well-being. In both the stories of “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, forced mental idleness becomes a sign of abuse and eventually leads to the women’s mental deterioration and breaking points. Mrs. Wright and the unnamed wife in “The Yellow Wallpaper” both share a common abuser - their husbands.
Although the unnamed wife believes that her depression could be fixed easily with physical activity and mental stimulation such as walks and the company of others, she is forced to put her well-being into the hands of her husband - a physician- who tells her that what she needs is the exact opposite. She even acknowledges her lack of control in the situation, “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression . . . what is one to do?”(Gilman, 436) Her lack of outlets for mental activity aside from her writing journal leads her to become fixated with the wallpaper’s intricate design. In it, she begins to think she sees a woman and it then becomes her mission to release this woman. In the end is when the author confirms that this woman is simply imaginary and in reality the wife herself - a symbolism for the oppressed and neglected woman.
What’s even more disturbing is the wife’s question: “. . . there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did (Gilman, 447)?” It was earlier mentioned by the husband that if the woman wouldn’t make any progress to getting better, she would be sent to Weir Mitchell - a real life physician around this time that the author herself had been sent to during a personal break down. The ‘resting treatment’ that the husband had forced upon his wife was a real life treatment enforced by Dr. Mitchell. The realization that so many women already suffering from anxiety could only be harmed further eventually resulted in Dr. Mitchell’s abandonment of the treatment.
While the true extent of Mrs. Wright’s abuse is only speculated by Mrs. Hale and Peters, there is definite evidence. It’s shown through the quilt that Mrs. Wright was working on; although the majority of the quilt is nice and even, there is a part of it that is so bad that the women believe she had become nervous about something. They note Mrs. Wright’s changed demeanor, “. . . she was kind of like a bird herself - real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and fluttery. How she did change (Glaspell, 1117).” These were thoughts of suspicious concern that only becomes confirmed at the discovery of the dead bird. Things start to come into place as they had noted earlier how it was an uneasy and quiet place to visit, and that “if there’d been years and years of nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful (Glaspell, 1120).”
In both stories, there is abuse - some signs more obvious than others. The neglect of the women’s mental wellbeing, eventually leads them to become insane. They are forced to accept their circumstances and seek solace in common things. The loss of this solace becomes their last burden.
As a woman, is there a definite path that will lead you to a happy, fulfilled life? Society tells women that it goes like this: be virtuous and pretty - but not too pretty- and you will obtain a good, caring husband that will provide for you and love you for the rest of your days. This is the life that the mother in Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” stresses for her daughter. However, in Hurston’s “Sweat” we see a contradiction to that idea. So which woman is the “correct” woman?
“Girl” is a list of ‘advice’ that a mother is passing onto her daughter. The list is focused on basic domestic duties and obligations that