“We were a silent, hidden thought in the folds of oblivion, and we have become a voice that
causes the heavens to tremble.”
In the times that we live in today, in a relationship men and women have equal rights. Relationships are based on the idea that it takes both men and women to make a relationship work. There is a mutual respect between partners. However in the Nineteenth century, women had virtually no say in their lives or relationships. The men controlled everything. Women allowed their feelings and opinions to be controlled and influenced by men. This society that allows this to happen makes it harder for women to overcome such repression. It gives the sense that men are better than women. This is not always the case; there are relationships where women have the ultimate control. This is shown in “Editha” and “The Yellow Wall-Paper” at some point in each story there is a shift in the power, the spouse that has initial control loses it and in both stories, the women gain control.
In “Editha” by William Dean Howells, the power in the relationship between Editha and her fiancee, George Gearson, is switched. Editha is the one with the control. In one instance, George comes to her for advice and help. He isn’t sure if he should go to war or not; “I know you always have the highest ideal. When I differ from you I ought to doubt myself” (Howells 1529). He comes to her because he feels that she will tell him to do the right thing. He knows Editha has a set “ideal” for him. However, she uses this power and control that George has given her, and selfishly convinces him to go to war for her; ” But now, it flashed upon her, if he could do something worthy to have her be a hero, her hero…” (Howells 1528). For Editha, George’s love is not enough anymore he needed to prove it by going to war for her, and by being her “hero”. George puts his fate in Editha’s hands. He gives her all power in his situation; he allows her beliefs to become his own; “Oh I know you do! But you wish me to believe so, too?” (Howells 1530). As a result of Editha’s prior ideals for George, he cannot rely on himself; he is completely dependant on Editha and allows her opinion dictate his decision.
In Editha’s mind, the only way that George can prove his love for her is by going to war for her; “there is no honor above America with me” (Howells 1531). And when he was elected captain and goes off to war Editha is satisfied; “Whether his sophistries satisfied him or not, they satisfied her”(Howells 1534). However, George does not come back, and his death makes Editha depressed. In her thoughts of him going to war and becoming her hero she has never thought that he might not come back; “you didn’t expect that [for him to die], I suppose, when you sent him” (Howells 1536). At this point the power that Editha has over George is switched. George is dead and was controlling her emotions. Her initial power backfires, because she irrationally used it without thinking of the consequences and now no longer has George. However, this psychological control exercised over Editha after his death does not last long. Editha rises above the vulgarity of the depression that she has and returns to her ideals; “she rose from the groveling in shame and self- pity, and began to live again in the ideal” (Howells 1537)..
In “The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Gilman, the narrator, Charlotte, has no control over her situation in the beginning; her husband John controls everything. He has power over what she does and when she did it. Since she is sick, she is “absolutely forbidden to “work” until [she is] well again”(Gilman 1735). John makes up a daily schedule for her and forbids her to have any visitors or to write; she is supposed to do what John tells her to do. Although Charlotte did not always agree with John, she trusted him because he is a physician; “personally I disagree with their ideas….But what is one to do” (Gilman 1735). Charlotte cannot disagree with or disobey her husband. She has to pretend to agree with him and she had to hide her writings and conceal her thoughts about her illness from him. As a result of John’s control over Charlotte, he is never able to understand how bad her condition really is; “John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him” (Gilman 1736). He doesn’t care about what she thinks or how she feels, as long as he controls how she acts. During this time period, this type of control is typical it is considered normal.
Throughout the story the control that John has over her becomes more apparent. In her writings the phrases “John says…” or “John thought…..” are used quite frequently. For example “John thought that it might do me good to see a little company” or “John says if I don’t pick up faster, he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall” (Gilman 1742). He is constantly telling her what to do and how to think. When John says that Charlotte was improving and Charlotte protests, saying that she is better in body perhaps, but not mentally John becomes angry and tells her to “never for one instant let that idea enter [her] mind” (Gilman 1741). He tried to control her consciousness. In that way, he is very similar to Editha. The both tried to control the consciousness of their spouse. However, Editha is successful where as in the end John is not. They both also have the same selfish motives; “he said that I was his darling and him comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake and keep well” (Gilman 1740). He wants her to recover only because it will make his life easier.
At the end of the story, when Charlotte locks John out of the room, she gets a moment of control over him. When he finally gets the key to the room; “the key is down by the front steps, under a plantain leaf” (Gilman 1745), he comes in sees what she has and faints. The wallpaper which she insists is making her crazy and pushes her over the edge. John will not listen to her, he does not hear her. She tries to tell him how the paper is driving her mad, but he does not believe her. She pulls down all the wallpaper because she can not stand it anymore. Through her break into insanity, she proves to her husband that it is making her crazy. When she does this, she gains control over John. The shift in power happens through her alternate reality, she has won the psychological battle with John.
These two stories show the amount of power and control that people can have over another person. John tries to control Charlotte, but he can not control her mind. John tries to control, what she does and is convinced that he is doing that. However, by the end of the story the power that Charlotte has over herself is evident to both the reader and John. She can no longer let him think and feel that he had control over her. Editha has power over George; she controls the outcome of his fate. However, using this control for her selfishness she loses her husband in the process. Through psychological means, both women had a shift in power in their relationship by the end.