For many decades, women lived under the suppression of men. In fact, many people still argue this today. There are many facts that support the idea that men are privileged over women in today’s society. However, these gender issues were much more overt and much more of a problem in the past. Many authors have touched upon these issues in their works. Some do so in a very subtle fashion and some do so quite overtly. Two novels that address gender issues are Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wall-Paper. Moby Dick was written in 1951 and The Yellow Wall-Paper was written in 1892.
Melville addresses gender roles much more subtlety than Gilman, who addresses these issues overtly. This is nearly a six- decade difference between novels, but both of these novels were written during times that were much worse for women. Both of these novels show instances of women suppression and male domination. To start, in The Yellow Wall-Paper, the narrator is the wife to John. John is a doctor, a physician, and is much more of a serious person than his wife. His wife, who is not named once throughout the novel, is an imaginative and creative person.
This right here is an example of a gender issue: the fact that the arrator, who is an important main character, is not named. Since the narrator is a married female, she is probably only referred to as Mrs. [John’s last name]. With a lack of a name, it almost makes it seem like she is unimportant. Similar to all men during this time period, her husband, John, made all of the decisions for the both of them. He chose which estate they would reside in, what room in the estate they would sleep in, and everything else that is a “man’s job” to decide. Whenever she tries to make a suggestion or has a questions he tells her, “trust me, I’m a doctor”.
She has no chance of winning any argument. He literally controls her. At one point she writes, “but John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story- making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try” (15-16). This is incredibly suppressive of John. He does not allow his wife to have a creative mind and he has forbidden her to engage in the one activity she enjoys: writing.
She wants to spend time on her riting but her family, especially brother and husband, tell her this is an awful idea. Without having any freedom to do anything she enjoys, she faces extreme depression and boredom. In fact, many argue that she develops a serious mental disorder. The extreme suppression by her husband, leading to her depression and boredom, results in her obsession over the yellow wallpaper in her room. As she analyzes and thinks deeper about the wallpaper, she begins to believe there is a woman trapped within. This woman is a symbol of herself.
She is so bored and mentally deranged in this uncomfortable living ituation of hers that she convinces herself that there is a literal woman trapped within the wallpaper who cannot get out. This is parallel to her being trapped within this estate and being unable to get out because of her femininity. Before they are set to leave the house, she plants in her mind the idea that she must set this woman free. She goes into her room and starts tearing off the wall paper declaring that she is now free. Throughout the story, the narrator looses her strength, motivation, and willpower, but the wallpaper seems to keep her somewhat alive.
Her imagination suffers from her husband’s orders to not “fancy”. She begins to develop a literal fear of her husband. She feels inferior to him. Although there are not really any specific references to gender issues explicitly written in the novel, the main character’s repression, confinement, and imprisonment are all evident examples of gender issues. In addition to The Yellow Wall-Paper, Herman Melville alludes to issues of gender in Moby Dick. Herman Melville uses women in Moby Dick in instances that support the common misbelief of the time that women are only there when men want them to be.
For example, in the novel Moby Dick, the main activity that the story is surrounded by is whaling. In chapter 87, The Grand Armada, when the whalers are observing the whales, they notice something. They notice that the female whales are most likely seen with their children and the male whales are commonly found guarding. This comes to show that not only are these gender issues apparent in human life, they are even apparent in “whale life”. The female whales, similar to female women, are subjects of male domination. Many people also argue that the subjugation of women is seen through the act of haling.
When the whales are murdered, they become in the ownership of the male of killed them. This is similar to women. When women are in a relationship of some sort with a male, they are forced into the ownership. To add, many people relate Ishmael to being the woman of this tale, even though he is a male character. It is argued that he is similar to the newer, growing generation of feminists of this time. The type of feminists is those who were getting out there and doing actual labor that was subjective to men originally. Ishmael kind of takes on the role of the wife figure to Queequeg, nother one of the principal characters.
Ishmael follows Queequeg around and lets him lead the way. Also, Ishmael does not have a specific job on the ship. He just assists in whatever the other men tell him needs to be done. He is, in essence, a subject of male domination as he accepts whatever commands the men give him. Also, women are commonly classified as being more emotionally attached. Ishmael does not participate in the whale hunting. He actually is fascinated by the whales; in fact, he actually later gets a whale tattoo because he is so emotionally connected to the whale species. The whole idea of Moby Dick is very masculine based.
These men set out on a ship for revenge on the White Whale. Men. Working. At sea. Killing. Murdering. Harpoons. No women. Everything about this novel is very masculine. Melville does not give women an active role in Moby Dick. In fact, many online resources suggest that the word “he” was used over 2,000 times and she, women, or wife less than 30 times. In fact, women were actually talked about in a disrespectful tone. For instance, Captain Ahab proclaimed, “wife? wife? – rather a widow with her husband alive? Aye, I widowed that poor girl when I married er” (405).
Many comments, similar to this one, were made multiple times throughout the novel. When things were not said as directly as this time, it was alluded to the fact of disrespect to women. OverallI, the men’s world of Moby Dick is just another example of the role of gender in this novel. In conclusion, both Herman Melville and Charlotte Perkins Gilman implemented the role of gender in their novels Moby Dick and The Yellow Wall-Paper. In Moby Dick, gender roles are seen through the act of whaling, the whole idea of the “men’s world” on the ship, and arguably seen through the character
Ishmael, even though he is a man. In The Yellow Wall-Paper, gender roles are seen through John’s dominance and suppression of his wife and the results of this dominance affected her mentally and emotionally. In general, Moby Dick is primarily about the male gender role and The Yellow Wall-Paper addresses the relationship and issue between male and female gender roles. Although these are two totally different novels, written in two totally different decades, they both address gender roles in very affective fashions through showing male domination and female suppression.