The Unnamed Woman
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-
She attempts to give a name to her developing condition, her emerging self, and is halted mid-sentence by John. Thus, the unnamed woman in "The Yellow Wallpaper" meets the challenge of her anonymity: she progresses from a society woman without proper identity to an inverted version of a Victorian lady, one so egregious as not to be acknowledged by appellation. Through the loss of her name, the dismissal of her former affectations and the emergence of her uncultured (yet not inhuman) alter ego, Mrs. John becomes at the end of the story embodies everything that is not acceptable in Victorian society. John"tms last name is important to her proper-Jane persona, she had no agency in its replacement with that of her husband"tms. The character herself indicates the completion of the transformation at the conclusion of "The Yellow Wallpaper. So while this partial loss of legal identity may be a factor in the speaker"tms transition of self, it is not an injury exclusive to this story"tms heroine. The trademark of a gentlewoman, her good name upon which relies her reputation is the first casualty of the speaker"tms progression into her second self. In addition, John even goes so far as to address the speaker in the third person (""tmBless her little heart!"tm said he with a big hug, "she shall be as sick as she pleases!"tm" ), effectively creating a split between his frail and proper wife, and the woman to whom he is speaking. She at times creeps about during the daytime, an action she admits is hardly commonplace. John this mother, this wife, this Jane gradually discards the traits which adorn a decorous woman of society. "tm" Once her names are stripped from her, the protagonist is left with no concise description of her personal identity. It is apparent to the reader that these reflections signify a total transference of consciousness: Mrs.