Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” contain many similarities. They both have the common theme of the deterioration of the main character’s life and mind, as well as the theme of the ostracism of outcasts in society. They also both deal with the main characters gaining a freedom through the demise of their previous lives. The woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is slowly deteriorating in mental state. When she first moves into the room in the old house, the wallpaper intrigues her.
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Its pattern entrances her and makes her wonder about its makeup. But slowly her obsession with the wallpaper grows, taking over all of her time. She starts to see the pattern moving, and imagines it to be a woman trapped behind the wallpaper. The total deterioration of her sanity is reached when she becomes the woman she imagined in the wallpaper and begins creeping around the room. Similar to the woman in Gilman’s story, Gregor, in “The Metamorphosis,” watches as his life slowly deteriorates.
He woke up one morning to find himself to have taken the shape of a bug. But early on he tried to continue in his normal activities; he focused on how he was going to make it to the train station so he did not miss his train, and how his employer would be upset with his absence from work. Then he begins to realize that he is a bug, and he cannot live his life the same way he used to. His sister begins to take care of him, and he loses touch with everything human that he used to know. His mother and father take away all of his furniture and other possessions.
Gregor’s family come to the agreement that the bug must be eliminated, it was not Gregor, and it would never be him. Eventually Gregor stops eating and comes to the realization that he has to die so that his family can move on. This was illustrated in Gregor’s last thought, “He thought of his family with tenderness and love. The decision that he must disappear was one that he held to even more strongly than his sister, if that were possible”(p. 825). The deterioration of Gregor’s life was in part due to the ostracism associated with his being turned into a bug.
Once his family found out what happened, they banished him to his room, and his parents could not even bear to look at him. Prior to his metamorphosis, Gregor was an integral part of the family. He provided the money by which the family survived. Yet as soon as he changed, he was labeled an outcast, who was useless to the family, and therefore not paid any attention. He felt this ostracism, and it made him not want to continue on in life, he gave up because he felt unloved. Likewise, the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” was confined because of her mental illness.
She, most likely, was suffering from post-partum depression, after the birth of her child. Instead of getting love and attention, and being able to see her child, she was sent to live in a room in a foreign house. She was not allowed out of the one room that her husband picked out. Although she yearned to see the gardens and the rest of the house, her husband would not let her. It was as though she was being punished for her illness. I believe that her confinement had an effect on the progression of her insanity, similar to the way Gregor’s ostracism and confinement led to his death.
She was forced to look at the yellow wallpaper day in and day out, making her more insane each day. Even though Gregor eventually died, and the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” fell into the depths of insanity, it seems they both gained some sort of freedom through the deterioration of their former lives. Gregor gained a freedom from the restrictiveness of his parents. Previously, he had to go to a job that he did not even like in order to support a greedy and materialistic family. Through his death he was able to leave a life that was not even fulfilling.
In a similar way to Gregor, I believe that the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” gained a kind of freedom through the deterioration of her sanity and her previous life. Her life before her confinement did not seem all that great to begin with. It seems as though her husband controlled every aspect of her life. But as she became more involved with finding out about this “woman” in the wallpaper, she gained a freedom from her husband. This is highlighted by her final act in the story. She said, “ I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane.
And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back! ”(p. 588). And she proceeded to step over her husband, who had fainted on the floor. This act of stepping over him can be seen as her overcoming his total control over her life. She was now taking control, almost taking over the role that he had previously occupied. In conclusion, the stories of “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Metamorphosis” have clear similarities in theme. The main characters go through life-altering changes, causing them to be perceived as outcasts.
They also eventually gain a freedom from these changes. These stories seem to show that such the shedding of a previous life is not always a bad thing, as much as it might seem that way at the time. Although Gregor’s metamorphosis into a bug was not a convenient change, it helped him to see how his family really was, and how little they cared about him. And the woman’s deteriorating mental health helped her to gain a new life and a freedom from her husband. In our lives, change may not always be a bad thing.