In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”, Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat” (click here for a full summary), and Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”, gender (specifically, femininity) is linked to ideas of love and hate through repression. All the main characters in each of these three short stories are the product of male influences, oftentimes negative ones, and much of their rage is intermixed with occasional feelings of love. For these three female characters in “A Rose for Emily” “Sweat” and “The Yellow Wallpaper”, their problems are the direct result of male dominance, which is clear, even though their rage is displayed and resolved in different ways. In all of these stories, what is most interesting is that there isn’t a “black and white” when it comes to emotion.
These three female characters in “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner are all torn between love and hate and there doesn’t seem to be a gray area. Perhaps that is what makes these stories so compelling, that it’s hard to determine emotion with any certainty. One thing that is clear is the way male dominance and repression has an effect on these “back and forth” feelings of love and hate. All of these female main characters seem to want to love the men that had so much control over them, but in the end, they snap under the enormous emotional weight of this male repression.
In Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat”, Sykes, the main character’s husband is the biggest dominating influence in her life. Despite the fact that she is always working to sustain herself and her husband, he always goes out with Bertha and spends all of his money. Her rage is apparent when she says how much she hates him, yet there are some interesting lines that show she still remembers love. For instance, as explained by the narrator in one of the important quotes from “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston “Ah hates you tuh de same degree dat Ah useter love yuh.” She remembers how she used to feel about him, back when they first were married and she remembers planting flowers and trying to make a nice home, but his continued abuse of her causes these feelings to eventually fade by the end of the story when she allows him to die. In the case of “Sweat” love and hate are continuously going back and forth and she even “attempted friendliness, but she was repulsed each time”. The repression in “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston, in the end, perhaps even more than the simple and constant rage, was what caused her to finally let him die in the end (since I don’t believe she wanted to save him).
The male domination, which leads to female repression in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is, while at heart, still the same in the basic terms that a woman’s emotions are stifled until a breaking point, there are a few key differences. For instance, unlike the main character in “Sweat”, this woman is not beaten or physically abused in any direct way, but she is smothered. Therefore, her feelings of love and hate can’t be expressed naturally and instead of seeing her own loves and hates, she puts her emotions onto the woman in the wallpaper.
The lady behind the paper that she sees is actually herself. Much like the main character, the wallpaper woman is, as the narrator explained in one of the important quotes from “The Yellow Wallpaper” “all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern — it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.” In some sense, the pattern is a symbol for the pattern of the woman’s oppression, that she can’t get out of her “cage” because he husband is keeping everything about her suppressed. The many heads can be seen as a symbol of all the things the woman wants to do, She wishes she could write and have guests over, but she can’t and instead, the woman in the wallpaper has all these “heads” or ideas of what she wants to do.
Another difference between the love/hate relationships and gender roles in “Sweat” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” is that in “Sweat” the female main character knows by the end that she hates her husband and what he puts her through. She actually is able to express her feelings of love and hate, even though she is a woman that is oppressed by the behavior and abuse of husband. The main character in “The Yellow Wallpaper” remains clueless though about her true feelings of hate that she might have for husband and it seems like she’s on the verge of saying she feels smothered when all of a sudden, there’ll be a line expressing how he takes care of her and she forgets thinking (or writing) ideas like “I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition. She blames her feelings of hate on her “condition” which almost seems like something her husband put on her to keep her in her place, but that is debatable.
In terms of this suggestion about oppression, in “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner there is yet another example of a woman who’s feelings of love and hate are suppressed due to male influences. Like the woman in “Sweat”, she keeps these hateful or even fearful feelings bottled up until she does something crazy (like murder her suitor). In “A Rose for Emily”, like in “Sweat”, the male is represented as very powerful and dominating, and in Emily’s case, it’s her father. There is an interesting description of him next to Emily that the narrator describes. “Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door. This imagery of the father with the whip next to a fragile Emily against a white (suggesting purity) background tends to make one see the dominating nature of their relationship better than any long passages of their conversations ever could (if some of those had been included, that is). Emily’s reclusive behavior and inability to handle her father’s death and another man coming into her world is proof that her emotions of love and hate were so intermixed that she didn’t know how to react when she was only supposed to feel one or the other.
The husband in “Sweat” and Emily’s father can be best compared to each other because seem to be men that are threatening to female emotions and “normal” love and hate feelings. In both of these stories, the two women characters are forced to act out this oppression through murder. It almost seems like neither of them have a choice, even if it’s for different reasons. Emily’s reason for murder remains unclear because there aren’t a lot of details given, aside from the fact that she used rat poison and kept the body around. In Emily’s case, her feelings of love and mixed with a strange kind of hate because she keeps the body, maybe so he won’t be able to leave her like her father did. While the main character in “Sweat” didn’t commit murder completely, I still consider her reaction to her husband’s bite a form of murder since she made a conscious decision to do nothing about it and seemed so calm. Again, like Emily though, her feelings were so confused and the lines between love and hate were blurred because she’d spent so much time as a wife in a subservient (for the setting, typically female) position.
It is just as possible to look at gender roles as they apply to feelings of love and hate by looking at “A Rose for Emily” in comparison with “The Yellow Wallpaper” as well because both female characters seem to be a little crazy. Neither of them have a clear place in society and this is because they are the victims of male domination. Both Emily and the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” try to balance their feelings of love and hate but in the end, these attempts fail and they “snap”. This ultimate result of male domination of female emotions is the reason for all of these main characters downfalls (if you can consider all of them to be that, which is questionable) and it almost seems that there three stories could have all been in the same section under either “Men and Women” or “Love and Hate”.
Other articles in the Literature Archives related to this topic include : Summary and Analysis of “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston • Psychological Character Analysis of Miss Emily in “A Rose for Emily” by Faulkner • The Role of Oppression in “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston • The Yellow Wallpaper : Gilman’s Techniques for Portraying Oppression of Women