Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School



Nineteenth-century expectations for women were rooted largely in what has come to be known as the "Cult of Domesticity" which stressed that women should be pious, pure, domestic, and submissive. Two writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin, portrayed in their works women who, in confronting these expectations, faced the psychological dilemma of reaching for personal individuation while not sacrificing their commitment to family, and especially to children. The most well-known works of Chopin and Perkins--The Awakening and "The Yellow Wallpaper"--portray women as victims to motherhood in variant ways, and most critics assume that the writers thus see domesticity as a barrier to self-realization. A closer reading of these two texts, however, coupled with works like Perkins' Berland, selected short fiction by Chopin, and non-fiction by both, reveal that the writers embraced motherhood and domesticity as valid roles for women which need not deny their search for individuation. Starting with a brief biographical overview of each writer, this thesis examines the authors' domestic relationships and, using diary entries and essay/lectures, expands upon their stances and attitudes toward women's roles. A subsequent study of Herland will show that Perkins considered domesticity as equal to work outside the home and valued motherhood as the essential component for social stability. Similarly, in some of her less studied stories, Chopin, herself a mother six times, offers portraits of mother figures and home-makers which are positive, even though many, like Edna Pontellier, yearn for self-gratification in other venues. The final chapters will do an in-depth study of the "The Yellow Wallpaper" and The Awakening as they offer commentary on the mother-woman and her fate, should her maternal instincts be thwarted by the patriarchal society. Using biographical, as well as some feminist, cultural, and psychological theory, I offer alternative readings of these women's works as precursors to a larger body of modern fiction which extends this issue of women's place within the home.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, 1860-1935 -- Criticism and interpretation Chopin, Kate, 1851-1904 -- Criticism and interpretation Sex role in literature Women in literature American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University