Name, Identity and Self in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”
Charlotte Perkins Gilman presents in the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” a narrator of dubious identity. If a reader infers that the reference at the end of the story to “Jane” is indeed self-reflexive, a dichotomy between the Jane of which she speaks and the character who creeps about the room becomes apparent. This division within the single heroine can be best understood when viewed as such: within this nameless speaker are in fact two women, and as the actions of one recede the other becomes dominant. Indeed, the reader sees two separate identities, or selves, within the narrator’s captive body: the proper-Jane persona, the suitably-named, dutiful and lucid wife of Dr. John; and the nameless, savage and hysterical woman, a reflection of whom the raconteur sees lurking behind the wallpaper’s exterior pattern. As proper-Jane’s affectations dissipate, those of her unsociable doppelganger fluidly fill in the gaps in the speaker’s psyche.
The protagonist in “The Yellow Wallpaper” provides the reader with very few concrete details of her person. She is a woman: mother, daughter, sister, cousin, sister-in-law and physician’s wife. She is an “ordinary” person. She is—if one were to attempt a succinct moniker—Mrs. John. Yet, this Mrs. John—this mother, this wife, this Jane—gradually discards the traits which adorn a decorous woman of society.
The primal, villainous character Mrs. John becomes at the end of the story embodies everything that is not acceptable in Victorian society. She neglects her child, abandons her household “duties” , becomes increasingly paranoid and believes that she knows her medical condition better than her doctors. In addition to her near-maniacal obsession with the yellow wallpaper, the speaker begins staying awake all night and sleeping through the day. She at times creeps about ...