A Rose for Emily and The Yellow Wallpaper: Compare & Contrast Essay

November 9, 2020 by Essay Writer


This essay aims to examine two short stories: A Rose for Emily, written by William Faulkner, and Charlotte Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. Both authors examine the relations between physical and psychological confinement. It is possible to argue that Faulkner and Gilman show that physical confinement can be primarily explained by psychological or social alienation an individual.

This is one of the central themes to which both writers attach importance. However, there is a critical difference that one should identify. In particular, William Faulkner describes the experiences of a person who voluntarily chooses seclusion as a way of escaping reality. In contrast, Charlotte Gilman focuses on the life of a woman forced into isolation by other people. That is the main thesis of this paper.

A Rose for Emily and The Yellow Wallpaper: Main Characters

First of all, it is essential to examine the experiences of both characters. Both of them are physically isolated from other people. For example, Emily Grierson, who lives in a fictional town named Jefferson, does communicate her neighbors. She decides not to maintain any contacts with her neighbors, even though she is financially dependent on them. One should note that Emily belongs to an old Southern family that was prominent during the Antebellum Period.

However, these people cannot adjust to the new social, political, and economic environment. For instance, she says that Colonel Sartoris freed her from taxes without realizing this man died more than ten years ago (Faulkner 527). The narrator describes this person as “a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation” (Faulkner 526).

To some extent, this woman is an object of curiosity because of her self-imposed seclusion (Faulkner 527). The main character of Gilman’s story is also isolated from other people. She cannot leave the upstairs bedroom. Moreover, her husband does not let her work or see other people. He only insists that she should stay within the house. This seclusion eventually proves unbearable to her. That is one of the issues that should be taken into account.

Furthermore, much attention should be paid to psychological confinement. This issue is particularly important if one speaks about the unnamed narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper. She is denied the opportunity to interact with others. That is one of the reasons why she becomes so obsessed with the patterns of the wallpaper.

For example, she believes that these patterns begin to move; moreover, the narrator is convinced that there is some “woman behind” who shakes it (Gilman 735). To some degree, this behavior can be explained by the fact that she cannot communicate with any person except her husband. A similar argument can be made about Emily, whose mental problems manifest themselves thoroughly only after her death.

In particular, her neighbors learn that she kept the corpse of her lover in the house. Overall, it is possible to say that these short stories show that physical confinement is closely related to psychological isolation. Furthermore, they eventually result in mental impairments. That is one of the main dangers that people should be aware of.

However, several differences should be taken into consideration. First, it should be noted that Emily Grierson is not forced to live in complete seclusion. She does not want to accept the fact that the world of her youth disappeared completely. She kills her lover, Homer, in an attempt to retain him forever.

So, by living in isolation, she tries to turn a blind eye to reality. So, her physical isolation originates from her escapism or unwillingness to face the changes undergone by the society. One can say that Emily’s psychological confinement is the central theme which William Faulkner explores. This is one of the details that can be singled out.

In contrast, Charlotte Gilman describes a person confined against her will. This short story symbolizes the confinement of women in the domestic sphere. In many cases, they did not have an opportunity to participate in public life.

As it has been said before, the main character of Charlotte Gilman’s story is not allowed to work. Such situations were prevalent in the nineteenth century. So, her physical and social isolation eventually leads to her insanity. In turn, the author depicts the destructive effects of this ideology on an individual. This is one of the main points that can be made.


On the whole, these literary works show how different people can struggle with psychological and physical confinement. William Faulkner’s short story indicates that the physical isolation of a person can be explained primarily by social and psychological alimentation.

In contrast, Charlotte Gilman pays attention to the feelings of a person whose physical confinement turns into psychological alienation and madness. However, it is important to remember that these writers depict the life of people who are completely separated from public life. These are the main aspects that can be identified.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Literature: The Human Experience. Ed.

Richard Abcarian, Andrea Lunsford, and Marvin Klotz. New York: Macmillan Higher Education, 2006. 526-533. Print.

Gilman, Charlotte. “The Yellow Paper.” Literature: The Human Experience. Ed.

Richard Abcarian, Andrea Lunsford, and Marvin Klotz. New York: Macmillan Higher Education, 2006. 729-738. Print.

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