Classification Systems and Power Dynamics in "The Yellow Wallpaper," House on Mango Street, and "World of Wakanda"

By: Ariel Dean



major way that varying peoples differ from each other is in the metrics by
which they assess, measure, and value certain aspects of their culture. This
can be beautifully seen in “And Some More” in The House on Mango Street with
conversation about Inuit classification of snow. In this section Esperanza
talks about how “the [Inuit] got thirty different names for snow”, and then she
goes on to say how her friend disagrees, saying “there are [only] two kinds…
the clean kind the dirty kind” (Cisneros 35). While this is a very small part
of the story as a whole, it is a perfect example of the way different cultures
classify different things that hold significance to them as a group of people.
With this example, even though the snow that falls is the same wherever it is
in the world, different people and cultures around the world have different
ways of viewing it. To continue this example, and to apply the argument to the
topic of this essay, people with power (white, rich, male, etc. people) decide
that their way of classifying types of snow is the only correct way, and
that all other ways are not worth understanding. The stories of Black
Panther: World of Wakanda
, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, and The House on
Mango Street 
all share the fact that they feature differences in this sort
of classification or evaluation between groups of people. In these stories, one
can clearly see how groups in power get to decide which ways of measuring or
classifying things are valuable and ‘right’, and groups without power or
representation are left to deal with the negative consequences of that. 

and classified power can be seen in Roxane Gay’s Black Panther: World of
with men and women. Though Wakanda is said to be a land of equality
between genders and classes, there is still violence within its bounds. The
most prominent case in this book is with Chief Omarion Diya and the women and
girls he keeps with him in the village Kagara. Towards the end of the book, it
is revealed that the Chief has been raping these women and girls, and little has
been done about it. Supposedly, the men who do try to do something get
“banished from the village” by the Diya (Gay). The first response given to the
woman revealing this horrible problem is for those women being raped to
“protect themselves”. This response is given by another woman who is part of a
very powerful army, and instead of saying that they are going to do something
about this with the power they have, they put the pressure on the victims of
this atrocious crime to fix the issue themselves. This response reveals the
influence of men being the group in power and getting to define what is normal.
In this case, rape is something that is not explicitly defined as an acceptable
thing to do, but the fact that the response is for the victim to do something
shows that at the very least, men have defined it as something normal enough to
not put a stop to systematically. The fact that a woman is the one who gives
this unhelpful advice just shows how deeply engrained the normalcy of rape is
in the society- that a person who is in the group that suffers from this crime
in the highest amounts is in a certain way, enabling rape to happen. With most
other crimes, the response to resolve them focuses on those who actually commit
the crime, not on the victims of the crime. With circumstances socially
accepted as simple misfortune, it is up to the victim of such misfortune to fix
it themselves, though it is still regarded as unfortunate. In Wakanda, rape is
apparently regarded as a misfortune as the onus is on the victim to fix it. It
is clear that men are the group in power here that have set this standard for
how bad rape is as most of the leaders themselves are men and in this case, the
perpetrators of this crime are men (the chief and his guards) and the victims are
exclusively women. Because women are the primary victims, they are the
powerless group in this case. 

to apply the same approach to Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” with
John’s treatment of his wife. In this story, a woman named Jane is taken to a
house by and with her husband John who is a physician seeking to treat her for
what the reader can assume is post-partum depression. Part of this treatment he
does is locking Jane in a room and taking away her writing, something she loves
to do. Throughout the story, Jane tries to tell John that she is feeling worse,
and her condition is not improving. She also starts to see a woman behind the
wallpaper in the hideous room she is kept in, and eventually tries to free that
woman by tearing down all the wallpaper she can reach. Because John is a man
and a physician, he is in power in this situation, and from of that, Jane is
not in power. John’s position of power allows him to define what he thinks is
normal for Jane to be going through, and act accordingly, despite the fact that
Jane is telling him that he is making her worse. He gets to act as though his
perception of what is happening is the truth, and therefore his reactions to it
are obviously without flaws. Some of the symptoms of what today is recognized
as post-partum depression include “a virtual reversal of the feminine traits of
the period" (Taylor 24). At this time, women were expected by their
husbands and by the greater society to be ladylike, meaning they were expected
not to talk much or properly express their feelings, to be nice to people, and
to behave with decorum. However, some of the traits of post-partum depression
that showed a “reversal of… feminine traits” are “incessant talking, … a
general meanness towards caretakers, and obscenity in language and sometimes
behavior” (24). Jane experienced many of these things in the story, yet John’s
treatment for this was to make her conform more to her womanly duties, meaning
he put her on bed rest and would not let her write. This treatment put her more
into a sort of trap which is already one that is unreasonable and sexist, but
on top of the common symptoms of the depression she experiences, it puts her in
a position where she really cannot express herself and do what she feels she
must do to get better. Because of his position of power and the belief that
stems from such power that the treatment he is doing is right and normal, he
feels that he can ignore the blatant proof that his treatment is not working in
the form of his wife telling him and her visibly getting worse. 

Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street is a wonderful example of this facet
of relationships between the empowered and the powerless as it covers it with
multiple levels. Esperanza, the character around which the story is centered,
is a girl of Mexican descent who is a part of a low-income family. Because of
her status as woman, non-white, and not wealthy, she experiences the compounded
effect of all of these invalidating standards held by empowered groups (men,
white people, and wealthy people). This means that not only does she face
inequality on the basis of gender, race, and class individually, but also in
the combination of those factors (i.e. wealthy men and white men not just men,
white people, and wealthy people). Because of the inequality she faces on
multiple fronts, Esperanza certainly fits into the realm of otherness.
Typically, “otherness…indicates something that is ‘not of the dominant mode,’”
(Marek 174). In the context of this paper, otherness can be defined as the
experience of not fitting into the metrics defined by group(s) in power.
Esperanza is an other in this way as she does not fit into the expectations
held by white people, wealthy people, or men. 

            Throughout the story and even in the
introduction to the story itself, Cisneros provides examples of men having
power and establishing a societal expectation for what is normal and valuable.
For starters, in the introduction Cisneros writes about all aspects of her
writing from the start of her career to a beautiful description of her exact
style of writing. In this section, she describes a moment in her life when she
was invited to a writers’ event, and she was the only woman, and one of two
people of color there. She goes on to write about the differences between her
work and the rest of the writers’ works- that hers is only “four pages long and
was bound together on a kitchen table with a stapler and a spoon” (Cisneros
xx). This observation leads her to question her own writing, thinking that
their books are “real books” and asking herself if “she really [is] a writer or
[if] she is only pretending to be a writer?” (xx). The fact that the group is
predominantly white men shows that they are the empowered group here, and that
they have set the unofficial yet functional standard that the profession of
writing is one for people like themselves. This is further seen in the fact
that a female writer of color such as Cisneros starts to doubt her own ability.
These men have also set the standard that writing must be a certain way. It
must be lengthy and professionally done, an expectation that is clearly
inaccessible to most and completely arbitrary. The fact that these expectations
are inaccessible in many ways also shows that they are created by wealthy
people.  In what can possibly be assumed
to be a response to and rebellion against this unfair standard set by wealthy
men, Cisneros also writes about her style of writing being “simple and readable
as possible” (xvii). She also describes her style as one that “[makes] each
sentence serve her”, a feature that, once again, stands as a conscious
rebellion agaisnt a profession that has so far been defined in a way that
exclusively serves wealthy white men (xvii). 

            There are also clear examples of
this dynamic that have more to do with class. The first instance of this in the
story is when Esperanza is talking about perceptions of her home. She describes
the embarrassment she felt when a nun who worked at her school walked by her
home and said, “you live there?” to Esperanza, indicating a sort of
distaste or disapproval of Esperanza’s living conditions (5). This interaction
makes her feel awful as she says, “it made [her] feel like nothing” (5). She
goes on to indicate her own sense of disapproval in her own home, saying that
when she gets older, she wants “a real house”, making her current home seem
fake or not enough. This is clearly a case where there has been a standard set
by wealthy people for what a true home is, when what really makes a home
true is defined by the people that live in it. In this case, wealthy people
have decided that a “real” home is one that is perfectly clean and new and not
one that has been personalized by the owners. Just like with the author’s
experience with writing, this standard makes Esperanza question herself and her
own experiences. This section entitled “The House on Mango Street” starts off
with Esperanza showing her pride for that house as she clearly states that the
house belongs to her family, and they do not have to share it with anyone (as
they did in previous living situations). The fact that an interaction with this
nun suddenly takes away any sense of pride or joy she had in her house shows
the way this standard and sense of value defined by wealthy people is not
actually an objective distinction, though it is made out to be that way. If it
truly was objective, Esperanza would not have been happy with her home in the
first place. Later in the book, Esperanza is describing a local junk store
frequented by her and her community. She explains that when her and her friends
go to the store, the owner (an “old man”) does not “turn the lights on unless
[they have] money to buy things with” (19). Because of this, the kids are
forced to search for things “in the dark” (19). Though this experience itself
is not really an example of an expectation defined by groups in power, it is
certainly a metaphor for it. Because these kids appear to him to not meet his
standards of wealth (having enough money to purchase something), he is not
allowing them to peruse the store under normal, expected conditions (proper

in the section titled "Those Who Don’t”, Esperanza presents the
relationship between the white, wealthy folks of the area and her community.
She says that these privileged people try to avoid her neighborhood because
“they think [the community] is dangerous” and they almost think of the people
in the community as animals, at risk to “attack them” (28). This small passage
reveals how the wealthy whites of the area get to decide what makes another
human “dangerous”, and those deciding factors are low income and non-whiteness.
However, in this section, Esperanza provides just the right information to
prove this assumption wrong. She goes into how the very people within the community
“aren’t afraid” because they truly know their neighbors. (28). Everyone’s
quirks in this group are known to each other, but unfairly perceived as
“dangerous” to those outside the community. She goes on to say, “All brown all
around, we are safe”, showing that these people around her represent quite the
opposite than they do to the wealthy white folks (28). Esperanza then turns the
narrative back around, acknowledging that when she and her friends and family
are around those “of another color”, they are the ones who get nervous.
While this other race she mentions could really be anyone, it is possible she
is meaning specifically white people. In this case, this mention of how the
fear is on both sides really shows that while all people may make assumptions
about others based on differences in lifestyles, it is really only groups in
power that get to act on those assumptions and make it a functional reality for
everyone around them. Even though the wealthy whites are scared of the
low-income people of color, and the people of color are scared of the white
people, it is only the white people with money that get to label the other as
hostile or “dangerous” (28). Their combination of wealth and racial privilege
allows them to classify others as unsafe simply because they live different

            As seen in each of these stories, oppressed groups and
peoples are forced to live in a world defined by a very small group of the most
privileged people. In the case of Black Panther: World of Wakanda, women
have to live in a world where violent, gendered crimes like rape are somewhat
normal as defined by men in the community. With “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Jane is
forced to live and heal under a sense of normalcy defined by her husband John,
who does not and will not try to actually understand her situation. Lastly,
Esperanza in The House on Mango Street and the author of the book itself
must live lives structured by those most different from them: rich, white men.
For their standards, Esperanza’s house is not right, and her community is not
safe, so she feels the need to change despite her not feeling the same way
about her situation. Cisneros has to battle a constant disapproval from other
white writers of her work because it does not necessarily meet the unreasonable
and meaningless standards they have decided are right, yet her writing is
beautiful and intelligent just as it is. The women in all these stories face
lives that are defined by wealthy, white men, simply because they are the group
in power and from that power, they decide which way of navigating life is right
and which ways are not. 

Works Cited

Cisneros, Sandra. "The House on
Mango Street". 2nd ed., Vintage Books, February 2009.

Gay, Roxane. Illustrators Alitha
Martinez, et al. "Black Panther: World of Wakanda", 4th ed. MARVEL

Gilman, Charlotte
Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” New England Magazine, 1892.

Marek, Jayne E.
Journal of English and American Studies (HJEAS)
, vol. 2, no. 1, 1996, pp.
173–87. JSTOR, Accessed 16 May

RECONSTRUCTION OF MOTHERHOOD.” Sociological Focus, vol. 28, no. 1, 1995,
pp. 23–47. JSTOR
Accessed 16 May 2023