Good Example Of Essay On The Burden Of Motherhood In Three Short Stories
In three short stories (The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, I Stand Here Ironing by Tillie Olsen and The Revolt of Mother by Mary Wilkins), the burden of motherhood is revealed and discussed. This short paper will tackle various ways in which the burden of motherhood manifests itself in the life of mothers, and the specific resolutions each mother in the story has taken towards relieving themselves of either part or of all of the burden.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
In this short story, the narrator is confined to a home by her husband as the latter presumes she is simply having the blues after having given birth to a child. He presumes also that she is so delicate and frail. Aside from being left alone most of the time (supposedly to get some rest), she is also forbidden to write, which is her passion, and which gives her some glimmer of hope that she is to get well and return to her family. The burden of motherhood for Gilman is one of being unable to cope with the new environment, and with the lack of family support, the narrator slowly descends into the pit of dementia. She first takes note of the wallpaper in her room, and finds that this is the most hateful thing so far:
“The color is repellant, almost revolting, a smouldering, unclean yellow,
Strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places,
a sickly Sulphur tint in others” (Gilman, 649).
In this short text, one sees that the narrator is looking at the wallpaper in a different way. She does not like the wallpaper, and thinks that there is something evil in it. One can only think about her frustrations and her desire to go back home to be with her young child. The burden of motherhood in this case is one that is brought about by the fact that she cannot become a mother and perform her role as one because of the absence of her child and of her family as a whole.
One could also think about the burden of motherhood in this case as being due to her husband’s refusal to let her write. She feels captive, wanting to get out – and this occurs in a form of a transition from sanity to insanity. Her malady is interpreted by other writers to be the “neurosis of nothingness” (Penfold and Walker, 184). The yellow wallpaper has a figure that wishes to escape the wall, and this can be seen as her own figure wanting to be free of all the confining regulations and declarations imposed on her by her husband. The narrator strips the wall of the paper, in order to release the woman behind it – a perfect analogy for her own, restrictive, confining life, and the burden of motherhood due to the absence of the possibility of being a mother, and due to her husband’s refusal to take on her passion of writing. Thus in this story, the burden of motherhood is in the loss of family support and the confinement to a particular role – there is the loss of “freedom” in this case.
I Stand Here Ironing by Tillie Olsen
The narrator in this case is Emily’s mother, and Emily is her first-born. She is talking to someone who is presumably from Emily’s school, and she is talking to her while ironing the clothes. There is the implication that the mother does not have anymore time for anything else, as she tackles the phone call while doing the ironing. The burden of motherhood in this case is felt most by the narrator when she talks about Emily, her eldest child. Emily’s early years were spent in tumultuous times, and there was a time that she had to be brought to a children’s convalescent home because she was ill and her mother could not take care of her. The mother wants her talented daughter to become what she wants to be –a fine actress, performer, and comedian, but is afraid that she cannot help her daughter because she has four other children to look after. The mother desperately wants Emily to succeed as a performer, but she feels so helpless and tied down with her other responsibilities:
“She is a child of depression, of war, of fear. Let her be. So all that is in her will not bloom – but how many does it? There is still enough left to live by. Only help her to believe – help make it so there is cause for her to believe that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron” (Olsen, 1956).
The burden of motherhood is not only the limitation and the helplessness felt at not being able to help and support her daughter become the actress that she wants to become, but also because she is tied down by the household chores and with taking care of the rest of the brood. This burden is such that she rarely has time for herself - everything that is in her mind is all about the children and the chores that appear to be endless.
The Revolt of Mother by Mary Wilkins
The story was written in the late 19th century. The family lives in a rather small and dilapidated house, and the mother wonders why the father cannot built a new home instead of the new barn that he is constructing. Mrs. Penn is quite feisty and does not hesitate to remind her husband that the family needs a new home instead of a new barn:
“I’m going to talk.never have sence I married you, but I’m goin’ to now.
I aint never complained, an’ I aint goin to complain now, but I’m goin’ to talk plain.
You’ve been makin’ more money, an’ .you ain’t built no house yet.
You’re lodgin’ your dumb beasts better than you are your own flesh an’ blood” (Wilkins, 1891).
However, Mrs. Penn’s situation seems to be very different from that of the women in the other two stories. Her burden is somewhat relieved because her husband comes home surprised, but understanding of her wishes and of what she did in the end. Mrs. Penn cooks her husband’s favorite meal upon his return from his trip, and there is some form of empowerment that takes place. Her husband seems to like what she did and asks her what more needs to be done to the barn so that it will be more livable. Mrs. Penn was able to overcome the burden of motherhood in this instance – she did what she felt was right, and her conscience was clear.
Gilman, Charlotte. n.d. “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Web. 20 March 2015 from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/literatureofprescription/exhibitionAssets/digitalDocs/The-Yellow-Wall-Paper.pdf
Olsen, Tillie. 1956. “I Stand Here Ironing”. Web. 20 March 2015 from,: https://archive.org/stream/I_Stand_Here_Ironing_Revised/IStandHereIroning_djvu.txt
Penfold, Susan and Walker, Gillian. (1983). “Women and the Psychiatric Paradox”. Montreal, Canada: Eden Press.
Wilkins, Mary. 1891. “The Revolt of Mother. Web. 21 March 2015 from: http://wilkinsfreeman.info/Short/RevoltOfMotherNEN.htm
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