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Male Dominance in Victorian and Shakespearean Society

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper illustrates the reality of men’s dominance over women’s lives in Victorian Society. The husband, John, treats his wife, the unnamed narrator, as a petty and trivial person and stresses his superiority over her. John belittles his wife by calling her such names as “little girl” and “blessed little goose”. At first, these names for his wife do not seem important, but as the story continues it reveals John’s love for his wife is more paternal love than anything else. Men in Victorian society are represented as the dominant sex, and women portray the weaker sex. The narrator feels helpless as a woman because of her role as an entrapped woman in Victorian Society. She becomes obsessed with the wallpaper in her room and does not want anyone to tamper with the wallpaper; the same way she does not want John to tamper with her inner-self. Doing this she produces a guard to subliminally protect herself from the male superiority presented by John. She slowly develops a sense of independence for herself. The narrator starts to capitalize on the word “me” which emphasizes her newfound self-awareness. This society’s expectations finally defeats the narrator by eventually drives her insane. The fact that she goes insane symbolizes the weakening effects on women due to a male-dominated society.

Like The Yellow Wallpaper, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House depicts a husband-wife relation during the Victorian Era. The husband, Torvald, controls the marriage with a sense of parental love and treats his wife, Nora, as a child. He does not allow her to eat macaroons because he says they will rot her teeth. Doing this reveals his feelings of dominance in the relationship and his parental love. Similar to The Yellow Wallpaper, Torvald belittles Nora and calls her “girl” and “silly girl” conveying his feelings of superiority toward Nora. Torvald believes his purpose and man’s purpose is to protect and guide his wife. Influenced by Victorian Society, Torvald feels that Nora, as a woman, is weak and helpless by nature and that she should not have an equal role in their marriage. Women of this time are simply transferred from their father’s arms to their husbands, without any change in the affection brought toward them. Torvald forces Nora to dance with him, so his society will hold him in high prestige. Nora is simply used for the appearance of the household and not as an actual devoting and loving wife. She claims to have maternal obligations, when in fact she has a nanny that takes care of the children. This shows that Nora is used to keeping the appearance of the house permissible by the Victorian Society. Doing this Ibsen displays the sacrificial role held by women of the Victorian Era.

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In both stories, The Yellow Wallpaper and A Doll’s House, there is a turning point where the main women make an act of independence from their husband. After Nora confronts Torvald about the loan she has taken out in her father’s name she decides to leave him and the children. This turning point symbolizes her independence from her husband, but she also sacrifices her children for her own freedom. Nora departure from Torvald closely correlates to the narrator’s descent into insanity in The Yellow Wallpaper as a means to free themselves from their sexist society. During the end of The Yellow Wallpaper, John’s act of passing out creates a reversal of characters making him the weak being. Similar to the reversal of characters in The Yellow Wallpaper, Noras leaving of her family symbolizes Nora as the strong-dominant character and Torvald the weaker sex.

In Shakespearean Culture, marriages were made for the convenience of the fathers far more than for the love already existing between the bride and groom. In Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew marriage is not so much the result of love, but rather an institution of society that people are expected to take part in. As a result of the removal of romance from marriage, suitors are judged by what the can supply for the wife. All suitors compare the dowry each can bring to the marriage and the one with the most to offer receives the woman’s hand in marriage. This competition for marriage is like a game for the characters of the play.

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In the play, women are treated like objects that can be bought and sold rather than as human beings. This is expected since society is a patriarchal one. One can see the sexist undertones simply from the title which implies that the women are less than human and must be tamed as if they are wild animals to a domestic and non-emotional state. Woman’s role in Shakespearean and Victorian Culture is primarily the same because of male dominance in the relationship, however, at the end of The Taming of the Shrew Kate becomes “tamed” by Petruchio. On the contrary, in A Doll’s House and The Yellow Wallpaper, the oppressed woman commits an act of independence at the end of the story, but in The Taming of the Shrew, Kate commits an act of dependence towards her husband.

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Male Dominance in Victorian and Shakespearean Society. (2021, Mar 05). Retrieved January 30, 2023, from