by Picker Chen（陳比軻）
Our female heroines of the feminist classics－the wife in The Yellow Wallpaper, Minnie Foster in Trifles, and Celie in The Color Purple－bear the brunt of sexual discrimination despite the level of their social standing. As a female, they are physically inferior to men, incapable of self-defense when confronted with fists and kicks, and mentally incapable of anything more than household chores and domestic affairs. These three women have each overcome this stereotyped condescension by men, but the results are quite twisted and devastating because the fear and oppression marked by their past are still preserved. Even though the protagonists manage to triumph over their men, the women are still not justified because the men have driven them to insanity, depression, and into a life of a constant shadow of the past.
“I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder.” This occurs at the end of the story The Yellow Paper when to the reader’s mind the wife has seemingly turned insane. Witnessing his wife’s ghoulish state and horrific words, the husband faints and the narration finishes with this climatic terror. It is the end of the story, but what has happened to the protagonist? It can be assumed that making her husband faint is the protagonist’s payback to a condescending patriarch, but it is at the price of her sanity. Earlier in the story, the protagonist is able to keep her thoughts clear through the expression of writing. She is normal and thinks that “congenial work, with excitement and change” would do her good for her post-natal psyche. However, she is denied of this natural treatment, and the lack of it drives her to madness that can temporarily scare her husband, but that is not good for the rest of her life because she will neither become normal nor live an oppression-free life.
What equals insanity and the husband’s horror in The Yellow Wallpaper is the combination of depression and murder in Trifles. Clues such as the dead canary, a symbol of a vibrant character being forced to be silent, lead the reader to believe that the depressed Minnie Foster, wife of John Wright, could no longer endure her oppressed life with a “hard man,” who according to the character Mrs. Hale, was like “a raw wind that gets to the bone.” Also according to the talk of the two women in Trifles, Minnie foster “used to sing real pretty,” and would wear “a white dress with blue ribbons” when singing in the choir. But after getting married, John Wright’s male dominance and cold, unflinching temperament has caused her to become “shabby” and “silent.” Being too ashamed to meet with other women at the Ladies’ Aid and having no company at all, the dreary surrounding and unyielding spouse after decades of marriage would cause any woman to have chronic depression. This was especially common during the period when ideas such as women should be seen and not heard was prevalent in society. Murdering her own husband in exchange for what would seem like a better life actually puts Minnie Foster into a more complicated situation, bearing the sin of homicide, society’s scrutiny, her own fostered guilt and fear, and a possible life imprisonment if evidence finds her guilty. Again, the heroine is not justified through the murder of her husband. It is merely an eye for an eye since he has killed her voice and spirit decades ago, making her live an unfulfilled life in the past, and possibly so in the future.
Of the three readings, Celie probably has the cruelest life thrust upon her as she suffers the three layers of discrimination against gender, race, and status. Physical abuse has ruled her life since the budding age of adolescence, and this treatment has also molded her thinking into one of inferiority and shame. Celie is ashamed of her smile because in all her life men say that she is ugly, so she hides her smile with her hand when she smiles. This habit, along with the habit of thinking that women are like children and ought to be beaten into obedience, makes her a victim of the oppression that she does not fully realize. However, with Shug Avery’s help, she is able to find self-respect and self-love. She triumphs over the men in her lives through the death of her abusive stepfather, and her bravery of leaving her husband for good. With the reward of inheriting her house and the reunion with her children, this happiness has been far removed from her for a long time, and she cannot again experience a happy childhood and relive her younger years. This ending is relatively optimistic compared to the other two stories, but having known that Celie could have such a better life makes the men who have ruined it unforgivable.
These feminist works portray all the sufferings that women have gone through in order to fight for their peace of mind and soul. But sometimes, as shown in The Yellow Wallpaper or Trifles, the cost is high, and the satisfaction temporary. It seems as though women may never entirely escape from men’s control. But whatever choice made by the protagonists, it is the courage and persistence that is truly admirable in these heroines.