Do I live for myself, or for another? One is forced to ask this question to determine freedom, not in terms of the law, but philosophically speaking. The three short stories The Son’s Veto, The Story of an Hour, and The Yellow Wallpaper, by Thomas Hardy, Kate Chopin, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman deal explicitly with the question of whether we are truly free when we live in the shadow of someone else. “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged, the novel from which the aforementioned passage comes, would argue that no, we do not truly live, let alone live freely, when we submit to another. This does not deny love; rather, it expounds upon the virtues of equality within a relationship. However, the relationships within the three short stories are cases of anything but an equal relationship.
I argue that the characters of each of the three stories are weak characters in which an inferiority complex is easily identifiable. As such, none of the protagonists are free. Freedom, in regards to relationships between men and women, stems not from one party allowing another to do something, but from each of the parties having a mutual respect for the other. A gradual progression of dominance is seen from Veto to Wallpaper to Hour in which the protagonist is deprived of happiness, then of sanity, and finally of life itself. Had the relationship within each story moved from under the domineering shadow of oppression created by the obvious lack of mutual respect, the protagonists perhaps would have had a greater amount of respect for themselves, rather than becoming shells of human beings, never to live a truly fulfilled life.