Being that writing is inherently romantic in nature, throughout the history of literature, we see many authors’ insights into the enigmatic and often ambiguous subject of love and relationships. Three short stories written by three separate American writers deal with such matter; Charlotte Perkins Gillman in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Kate Chopin in “The Storm”, and Nathaniel Hawthorne in “Young Goodman Brown.” Though the relationships presented in each of these stories are unique in their own persuasion, the same underlying theme runs true in all. At first glance all of these relationships may appear healthy in their existence; however, further introspection uncovers specific issues, which elicit much of the discord that arises within each of these writings. All of the husbands in the aforementioned short stories evoke, varying degrees of conflict.
Gillman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a story pertaining to, and narrated by, a women suffering from depression after the recent birth of a child. Although the name of the women in the story is never revealed, many believe this is short story is an excerpt from the author’s life. Much of the setting of the story takes place in an aging mansion recently inhabited by the narrator and John, the narrator’s believed husband. Due to her affliction and under strict instruction of her husband John, who is also a physician, the narrator is sentenced to bed rest in one of the upper rooms of the house. The walls of the room in which the narrator is forced to occupy, are enveloped with decrepit yellow wallpaper displaying an irksome pattern which, coupled with the ennui of doing nothing, works in a malignant manner on the mental sanctity of the narrator. The narrator’s ailment could easily be rectified if she were allowed to busy herself. However, John’s view as a doctor denies any type of activity, even writing, for he feels it will only exacerbate her already fragile condition. This is shown upon viewing the narrator’s utter fear of John seeing her writing. She states, “There comes John, and I must put this away – he hates to have me write a word.” It is not simply a case of doctors orders that she does not write, it is the fear of what will happen to her if she does write and is caught. Gillman characterizes John as being very analytical and very scientific in thought. As such, so when he fails to find anything physically wrong with his wife he attributes it to fatigue, almost refusing to entertain the idea that it might be an emotional unsoundness that afflicts her. There also appears to be an immense lack of communication between the narrator and her husband John. “I had no intention of telling him it was because of the wallpaper”, says the narrator, referring to her husband, “he would make fun of me. He might even want to take me away”(Gillman, 1665). This rareness of interchange and inability of John to truly listen to his wife’s needs are the ultimate sources of conflict in the story.
Similar conflict is also found in Chopin’s short work “The Storm”. However, the disharmony does not manifest itself in such an apparent fashion as witnessed in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. “The Storm” takes place in New Orleans and deals with the controversial issue of infidelity. Here again we can attribute a substantial portion of the stories conflict to the husband, Bobinot, who seems almost indifferent to his wife Calixta. In the opening of the short story by Chopin we find Bobinot and his son, Bibi, sitting in front of a local store where they notice a storm of impending detriment drawing near. Bobinot’s lack of concern rears its proverbial head when Bibi draws attention to the fact that Calixta is at home alone. “‘Mama’ll be fraid, yes,” he suggested with blinking eyes. “She’ll shut the house. Maybe she got Sylvie helpn’ her this evenin’, Bobinot responded reassuringly.'” (Chopin,1612). Bobinot seems to have no sense of urgency where his wife’s safety is involved, and the elusion becomes evident that their relationship falls considerably short of perfect. Further into the story we find this elusion becomes fact when Calixta indulges in an extramarital affair with a gentleman named Alcee. Chopin writes in her depiction of Calixta’s affair that “Her firm elastic flesh that was knowing for the first time its birthright”, making it undoubtedly clear of the scarcity of passion that exists between Calixta and Bobinot (Chopin 1614). In this case, Bobinot’s apathetic position in his marriage prompted Calixta to seek passion and fulfillment in the arms of another man.
In the short story “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne we again see the husband cast as the role of antagonist. However, Brown, the husband of this story, affords the conflict in a much more perceptible fashion than seen before in the earlier mentioned writings. Hawthorne begins his story with Brown, who is departing on a business dealing of an unspecified nature, giving his farewells to his wife Faith. They appear very much in love and the conversation depicts nothing, which would lead one to believe that their relationship is anything but perfect. Yet, after further inspection one encounters dialogue that leads one to believe that there may be a deficiency of trust within the relationship. Faith, within their discourse, pleads with Brown to stay at home with her because she is afraid of being alone. Brown responds, in a manner that a guilty man might, “What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married?” (Hawthorne, 614). Hawthorne also uses symbolism to depict the lack of trust which afflicts Young Goodman Brown. Hawthorne speaks, with brevity, of a second traveler, ominously characterized as being much like Brown in appearance yet with a much darker quality. This second traveler embodies all of Brown’s own vile and debase essence and represents the struggle with his insufficient faith. After the chain of events which took place in the forest, Brown’s beliefs are tested to the fullest extent. He can either except what he saw as reverie, trusting his wife would never succumb to the temptations of such malfeasance, or take what he saw as truth, that many key figures, including Faith, are indeed involved in witchcraft. Hawthorne suggests in his writing that Brown fell victim to the latter. “Often, awakening suddenly at midnight,” Hawthorne says of Goodman Brown, “he shrank from the bosom of Faith; and at morning or eventide, when the family knelt down at prayer, he scowled and muttered to himself, and gazed sternly at his wife, and turned away.” (Hawthorne, 622) Another situation where the husband expects the worst and creates the conflict building a powerful story of trust and love.
The ultimate inception of discord must be attributed to the husbands in these stories. Though with varying degrees of distinctness, John’s inability to truly understand his wife’s needs in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Bobinot’s apathy towards Calixta in “The Storm”, and Brown’s want of faith in “Young Goodman Brown”, each act as the kindling used to incite the flame of conflict within these writings.