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Understanding Identity in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Between the World and Me”

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    Do you ever feel like society or people around you have expectations of you? When one realizes the demands of society or the reality of society it becomes distressful for them. Well, there are two narratives that carry out completely different plots but share that same idea. They are “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Both narrators are being oppressed by society because of their gender and race therefore finding a way to save their identity.

    Firstly, in “The Yellow Wallpaper” an unnamed woman suffers from a mental illness of nervous depression and she writes about herself, her husband John, and his sister Jennie in a journal. However, she writes when she is alone because John and Jennie don’t allow her to do any activities. While she mostly stays in her room, she becomes more and more disturbed and entranced on her wallpaper. She starts to see a figure of a woman in the wallpaper. One day her interest in the woman makes her become the embodiment of her. Her journal entries reveal a lot about what she thinks. An important fact about this story is of the time it was written. Perkins wrote this story in the 19th century, a period when women weren’t treated equally as men and had to fulfill a role, especially when a woman is married, she is treated as inferior by her husband. The woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” reveals that to the reader. At the beginning of the story, the narrator writes about how she feels weird living in her temporary house: “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” (647). She thinks his actions of being judgmental to her is acceptable and a normal attitude to in have in marriage in her society. Another thought she writes about is of Jennie, she says, “There comes John’s sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me…She is perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession” (650). Jennie takes over the narrator’s role that she can’t fulfill, which is of being a wife, mother, and housekeeper. The narrator feels bad that she can’t do what society and her husband expect her to do. Then when she sees the woman in the yellow wallpaper clearer, she realizes how it looks trapped, it probably shows that she realizes herself she feels oppressed for not fulfilling her role as a woman in society and in her own family.

    Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a letter for his son where he explains his experiences when he was younger and as an adult. His experiences are about living in America, a society that created the idea of racism which affects him because he is an African American. Coates notices how racism has affected how black men and women live including himself. He tries to help his son know how to live and perceive it in this society. Coates says, “Prince Jones had made it through, and still they had taken him” (77). Prince Jones was a person he knew that went to the same university as him. The death of Prince Carmen Jones made him realize more than ever that no matter how many good things one has accomplished they can still lose their life in America. Also, society is not what it seems to be, which is what Coates states, “But this banality of violence can never excuse America because America makes no claim to the banal. America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation to ever exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization” (8) In other words, America doesn’t live up to being a wonderful society, like it said it would, it continues to harm black people just like it had happened to Prince Jones. In Coates letter, he opens up by sharing his experiences and struggles of oppression for being an African American. He tells this to his son because he wants to help him understand what kind of society America is and how he should live in it.

    Although both narrators are facing different situations, together they face oppression. John represented society in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and with his actions he made his wife feeling overwhelmed. The narrator was not allowed to make decisions in their marriage and she recognizes that she can’t fulfill the role of a housewife when she sees Jennie. That’s why she sees a woman in the wallpaper because it reflects how she feels: “I’ve got out at last,” said I, “in spite of you and Jane? And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” (656) Furthermore, Ta-Nehisi Coates also faces oppression from society. He has been in many threatening situations that involved him for being an African American. When he hears about Prince Jones it makes him realize what kind of society, he is living in. A society made up of lies and harming others to appear as a good society. Coates makes a letter to his son to not believe in those lies, he wants him to face its reality. The woman and Coates have their struggles on oppression and at first, they don’t see it but when certain events occur, they see the reality of society. Then to save themselves, Coates brings out to light the reality of America for his son and the woman rebels against her husband’s orders and releases the woman from the wallpaper.

    One narrative is from the past and other from the present, but they have a strong message that can reach many today. Both stories don’t give a solution to the oppression there is in society, but they do give insight on it. The woman from “The Yellow Wallpaper” faces oppression because of her gender and Ta-Nehisi Coates confronts oppression because of his race so they find a way to reveal it.

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    Understanding Identity in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Between the World and Me”. (2021, Nov 24). Retrieved from

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