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“The Yellow Wallpaper” Essay, Research Paper

Who is Jane?

There are many opposing opinions on the identity of Jane in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The narrator of the story is never referred to by name throughout the entire work, however a questionable statement made by the narrator at the end of the story leads many to believe her name is Jane. Because the story does not specifically profess the narrator to be Jane, controversy has risen about Jane’s identity. There are many reasons to believe the narrator to be Jane and reject the assumption of a mere typo.

A common misconception of the identity of Jane is that she is actually Jennie, the sister-in-law and housekeeper. In Johnson’s study, he refers to John’s “like-named sister and housekeeper” (523) as Jane instead of Jennie. However, Charlotte Perkins Gilman may disagree with Johnson because in her own story she refers to this woman as Jennie twelve times and not Jane once. The passage that comes into question on this issue is when the narrator retorts to her husband, “’I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane’” (172). Also in the story the narrator talks about how nice Jennie is to her saying, “Jennie is good and lets me alone when I want her to” (164). Jennie was not the one in the way of the narrator freeing herself. She has her own self to blame for that.

The narrator is the victim of 19th century’s suppression and mistreatment of women as inferior beings. Elaine Hedges describes greatly the state of this woman:

But in her mad-sane way she has seen the situation of women for what it is. She has wanted to strangle the woman behind the paper–tie her with a rope. For that woman, the tragic product of her society, is of course the narrator’s self. By rejecting that woman she might free the other, imprisoned woman within herself. (19)

By understanding this, it is more likely that Gilman meant for Jane to be the narrator’s name; for it is Jane she is having to fight to free herself. Jane has always attempted to be the ideal woman and wife for John but her rebellious self prevents her from reaching her ego-ideal (King 30). King also comments, “The narrator is both the woman behind the pattern who is securely tied with a rope, and she who does the tying. Her cry of ‘you can’t put me back!’ recognizes the finality of the ideological process” (31). Loralee MacPike believes that, “The rescue of that woman becomes her one objective and the wallpaper becomes at once the symbol of her confinement and of her freedom” (123). This is saying that the narrator has two selves. One whom she frees from the wallpaper, and the other, Jane, who is stuck (confined) in the wallpaper. These two selves conflict with each other because Jane, the conformist, wants to live up to John’s ideal and her other self wants to break free from behind the wallpaper (society) and capture her own dreams. Conrad Shumaker suggests the narrator’s identity be Jane:

Recognizing herself as the woman who was behind the bars of the wallpaper, the narrator loses all social identity. At that moment she ceases to be the wife that she was and becomes nameless and isolated. When she views the picture of the imprisoned woman as realistic, she not only becomes separate from “Jane,” the loved and protected wife of John, she also loses her relationship to everyone else and her ability to act in a social context. To put it another way, “Jane” cannot read a story that describes her as a creeping woman. She turns away from her own narrative. (92)

We can see in Gilman’s words, “in spite of you and Jane” (172) that Jane and John are both the antagonists in this story. It is easy to see this as so if Jane is the narrator.

The names Jane and John are typical, ordinary names and this fact also points towards the identity of Jane. Margaret Delashmit, professor at Memphis State University, writes, “Such common names usually suggest ordinary people; …[the author is] making a statement about common relationships between the sexes in ordinary life” (33)….

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