Common theme between two stories


This research paper is interested in exploration and elaboration of the common theme between the two literary pieces including A Good Man is Hard to Find written by Flannery O’Conner (1954) and The Yellow Wallpaper created by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892). Since writers, poets and intellectuals are considered to be the brains of a society (Zaidi 26); they attempt to identify and point out the problems faced by their fellow-humans, by applying an outstanding observation while examining the social, physical and natural phenomena existing all around them (Zaidi 27). By this, they tend to unveil the dark aspects of life experienced by the people in their contemporary society. Consequently, by dint of their in-depth observation and profound understanding of human psychology, they skillfully indicate the social problems and condemn the social evils prevailing all around them. Hence, the intellectuals appear to be dedicated to unearth the unpleasant behavior and actions, witnessed by the individuals either consciously or unconsciously, which may cause serious challenges for themselves and the individuals around them. Thus, the writers, through their literary pieces, criticize the wrong-doings, and stubborn and insensible behavior of the people, which not only create problems for themselves, but also cause grave harms for others. The same has also been depicted in the above-mentioned stories, where the authors ascertain that the imprudence and obstinacy observed by the individuals due to lack of knowledge and wisdom may ruin the life of their family members subsequently.

Created by nineteenth century feminist-writer Charlotte Gilman, the story of Yellow Wallpaper revolves around a woman, the narrator-protagonist, who has to spend her summer while remaining confined to a room in loneliness because of her husband’s inaccurate diagnosis of her disease. Since the woman undergoes illness after the birth of their third child, she feels physical weakness and demonstrates somewhat abnormal behavior after delivery (652-3). Despite the reality that the woman needs medical care and emotional support after getting relived of her third pregnancy, her so-called qualified and experienced physician husband declares her ailment to be nervous problem and psychological disorder (648), which requires her staying alone in an isolated room of a peaceful and least populated area till her complete convalescence (Gilman 647). The same medical recommendations have also been made by his brother, also a physician of high standing by profession. Hence, both of them suggest her complete respite, which is being observed at her husband’s ancestral mansion of colonial era, and would protect her from the noise and disturbances associated with the modern era city life (648).

The woman does not have any option other than complying with the commands of her husband, John, who looks deeply concerned for her deteriorating emotional condition and perturbed psychological trauma, and would not let her take even a step against his directions. Even the woman has not been involved in the setting of the lonely room, where the clumsy smouldering, unclean yellow wallpaper covering the room portrays a doleful scenario and mirrors every artistic sin (648-9). Thus, instead of providing a pleasant and healthy environment, the torn and ruined wallpaper tends to turn the atmosphere to be gloomier. Since they have to stay there only for three months, John does not intend to renovate the room for such a short-time stay. It explicitly demonstrates that he has not arrived here for the convalescence of his ailing wife; rather, he certainly has his personal plans and tasks to accomplish in the area, which certainly require confinement of her wife in the room.

John’s worriedness and concerns can be found by his requesting his sister to look after all domestic work during the woman’s ailment. Hence, her sister-in-law has accepted the administration of all matters related to the household, so that the woman can take rest and hence can escape the unnecessary workload during her illness (650). The woman is not allowed to participate in domestic and social activities; on the contrary, she is forced the lead the life attributed to a recluse (Gilman 654-5). As a result, the woman is unable to enter into normal interaction and communication with other members of society altogether. Other 19th century writers particularly Kate Chopin in her Desiree’s Baby (1891) and Story of an Hour (1894) has also discussed the same that woman stratum is exploited and suppressed by the males in the British and US societies (Chopin 2).

While portraying the doleful and pathetic scenario associated with her contemporary era women, Gilman has attempted to explain that women during 19th century remained confined to four walls of their homes. Consequently, instead of adding their share by making valuable contributions in multiple areas of social and professional life, women were denied to enjoy the rights and privileges equivalent to the male members of their society (Salvaggion 37). Therefore, the woman literary figures including the brilliant Bronte sisters as well as distinguished novelist George Eliot had to conceal their real names just for escaping discouragement and suppression at the hands of 19th century male-dominated society. On the other hand, men enjoyed the bliss of spending their time outside their homes the entire day, and even during nights when they had some serious cases as doctors and professionals (Gilman 650). Since they considered the ‘cases’ of their patients and clients to be more serious ones than those of their ailing and lonely wives, no one could stop them from staying away from homes altogether (649). Moreover, the author also ascertains that impulsive, unwise and irresponsible insistence and stubbornness displayed by the family members may lead to further losses, as it is the case with woman. At the moment when she needs extraordinary care and consoling from her family, she has cruelly been imprisoned in a room in the name of health recovery. Similar elements can also be found in A Good Man is Hard to Find by O’Conner, where the grandmother demonstrates the obstinacy maintained by John in Gillman’s story.

Identical with the theme of Yellow Wallpaper, the main idea of O’Conner’s story is also the hypocrisy and stubbornness of the people during their entering into interaction with others (O’Conner 138). The author has discussed how unnecessary proclaims of ethics and morality are projected and promoted in a snobbish way by the individuals. The story concentrates upon the obstinacy and untoward insistence of the talkative old lady, called the grandmother, on every issue being discussed in her presence (137). Being the protagonist of the story, she speaks all the time, with little contributions to be made by her son Bailey, his daughter June Star and son John Wesley at home and during the journey on car (137-8), and later Mr. Misfit during his dialogue with the old lady (150-2). On the other hand, Bailey’s wife and Mr. Misfit’s associates just serve as silent participants with very little partaking in conversation throughout the story.

The story narrates the misconception of the grandmother about olden days, the time when there prevailed peace, harmony, tranquility and ethical values in everyday social life (144). The old woman tends to project that the past people served as the sign of integrity and benevolence, the personality traits the young generation lacks these days (145-6). Hence, instead of having any sound evidence to endorse her stance, the old lady looks making comments on the basis of her personal belief that the people in past observed more politeness, honesty and integrity in their communication and dealings.

However, identical with the personality of John of Yellow Wallpaper, the grandmother also pretends to be observing these admirable traits; though in real life, she has turned out to be a liar, deceitful and snobbish person. Like John in Gilman’s story, the grandmother focuses her attention on her personal liking and tastes, and never takes the pains and sufferings of others into consideration altogether (139). Since she is interested in visiting Tennessee instead of the plans made by Bailey and his children to go to Florida for spending vacations, she attempts to frighten the family by depicting the presence of Misfit, the criminal at large, hided in Florida. However, Jane and Wesley turn down her idea, which reflects that they do not have developed trust in their grandmother partly because of her trickery. On one occasion, she looks advocating ethics and morality while conversing with Mr. Red Sammy, the owner of a hotel (140-1), and on the other side, she has secretly boarded her cat on the car against the will of the family (138). It explicitly demonstrates that people can lie and deceive others for the sake of their personal happiness and satisfactions (146); the same practices have also been exercised by John in the Yellow Wallpaper.

In the same way, the grandmother declares the hotel owner as a good man on his maintaining that he has blindly trusted and financially helped some fraudulent strangers. It clearly reveals that the old lady does not have much exposure of the people; nor does she looks familiar with the true meaning of being good altogether. Moreover, it also shows that she intends to portray herself as a good person and contains good intentions by flattering the others. It reminds the readers of John of Yellow Wallpaper, who has taken her wife to the isolated mansion in the name of having good intentions for her. On the contrary, his act has resulted into the horrible increase in the psychological problems of the woman, who has found the creeping and crawling women imprisoned within the wallpaper, and striving for getting freedom from the tyrannical incarceration (Gilman 655-6). Consequently, instead of allowing her husband to enter, she looks determined to set the women free from the clutches of tyranny (Gilman 656).

The grandmother in O’Conner’s story (1954) portrays the image of a house with secret panel situated in a dirt street on the way, which actually does not have an existence altogether.     However, its glamorous depiction by the grandmother fascinates her grandchildren in such a manner that they force their father to turn back his car to enter a dreary street full of dirt, obstacles and ups and downs on it. Since the grandmother has also kept her cat in car, a sudden speed-breaker in the street causes the car stop, and lead to the cat’s jump on Bailey’s shoulder. It results into the accident and collapse of car subsequently (144-5). Thus, serious mistake made by the grandmother causes injuries and difficulties to her family.

The accident not only exposes the trickery, stubbornness and selfishness of the grandmother, but also provides the criminal Misfit and his associates with the opportunity of capturing the family and killing them one by one (152-3). Not only this that the grandmother has hid the cat in the basket without informing others about it, but also maintains her ignorance regarding the presence of the cat. Moreover, she repeats the flattering during her encounter with Misfit as she practiced during her meeting with the hotel owner. Since the old woman has recognized the criminal and perceives danger to her life, she attempts to pacify Misfit by declaring him to be a good man as well as her own child, just because of her finding her life into grave jeopardy (151). However, her flattering would not work out, as Misfit also shoots her thrice in wake of the killing of her all other family members in the woods (153).

To conclude, it becomes evident that both the stories have concentrated upon the hypocrisy and imprudence displayed by the people towards others. On one side, the grandmother urges Misfit to remember Jesus Christ for seeking his pardon through prayers; and on the other side, she herself does not remember even the shortest hymns and prayers (O’Conner 151-2). Hence, she just portrays to be a pious and honest person, though no goodness can be found in her. The similar is also the situation of John, who has inflicted cruelty and ruthlessness on her wife by confining her into a room, though he claims to be helping her in her distress. However, his staying away from her and the house endorses that he does not have any concern with the ailment and distress of the woman; and hence it proves him to be a selfish and imprudent tyrant, who would cause ruination of the mental health of his wife (Gilman 655-6).

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  1. Chopin, Kate. The story of an hour. 1894 1-3.
  2. Conner, Flannery. A Good Man is Hard to Find. 1954 137-153.
  3. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. The New England Magazine Volume 0011 Issue 5 January, 1892 647-657.
  4. Salvaggio, Ruth. The Sounds of Feminist Theory. New York: State University of New York Press, 1999. Print.
  5. Zaidi, Mujtaba Haider. Veto Oligarchy: the Fittest Deserve Supremacy. Lahore: Dastavez Publishers, 2016. Print. ISBN: 978-969-8422-29-5.
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