The society of the time didnt support womens intellectual activities and hence doctors denied their mentally ill patients the right to enjoy something other than domestic chores. This only compounded the problem and hence Gilman decided to speak against such medical approaches. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman placed the rest cure in the cultural context of late nineteenth century. The story was a metaphor for the lives of middle-class women trapped in other peoples expectations;” (Patarca-Montero, p. 4)
Gilman readily spoke against isolation and its decaying effect on human mind and in a way that is exactly what Jack London says in his story, “To build a fire.” In this story, a man decides to travel alone in sub-zero temperature to meet his friends after ignoring the advice that it was not safe to travel alone. The word “alone” is important here because it somehow seems that the protagonist believed that he could have survived the weather if he had not been alone. The fact that the weather couldnt have worked for anyone is completely ignored by the man as he focuses on his utter loneliness. He knows there is no man to help him out and that survival on ones own is not possible especially when in the face of hostile natural forces. “The old-timer had been very serious in laying down the law that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below.”
The protagonists in both stories are faced with a herculean task. One has to overcome brutal weather to reach a place of safety, and the other has to fight against the doctors when she herself knows better.
The man is rather smug and it is his stupidity that kills him because he had good advice of friends but decided to ignore it only to face death in the end. “There is a grim poetic justice in the fact that this coldly practical man literally freezes to death because he has committed the fatal blunder not only of spurning companionship but also of scorning the old timers wisdom.”(Labor, p. xxi) the woman on the other hand is wiser and intellectually aware of her condition but she is unfortunately surrounded by unwise people who fail to listen to her.
The two important themes in the story are thus “hostile nature” and “aloneness.” In case of the Yellow Wallpaper, the two essential themes are “unwise medical community” and “isolation.” When compared and contrasted, these stories are essentially about survival in the face of antagonistic forces. Both protagonists fail to survive but in different ways. While the man dies after struggling for hours to build a fire, the mentally ill womans condition worsens to the point of complete lunacy.
Labor, Earle. The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Other Stories (Oxford Worlds Classics) Oxford University Press, USA (1998)
Patarca-Montero, Roberto. Medical Etiology, Assessment, and Treatment of Chronic Fatigue and Malaise: Clinical Differentiation and Intervention. Informa Healthcare; (2004)
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper” (1913)
The Forerunner. http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/whyyw.html.