Who is Jane in The Yellow Wallpaper?

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

There are only two possibilities for the identity of 'Jane' in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper' - it is either a typo for Jennie, or Jane refers to the narrator herself. This lesson covers both, and focuses on the argument that Jane is the name of the narrator.

Plot Summary

Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story about a woman and her husband who move into a house where the woman is meant to rest and recover from a nervous condition. Her husband, John, as well as her caretaker, Jennie, protect the woman narrating the story. In fact, so much so that she has very little freedom, and eventually loses her sanity. Along the way, the woman becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper in her room and is convinced that there is a woman trapped behind the wallpaper, whom she wants to free. The story ends with the woman tearing the wallpaper from the wall, believing that she has freed the woman behind it, and merging her identity with the woman's; John walks in on this scene and faints.

When Do We Learn the Name 'Jane'?

We only read the name Jane once in The Yellow Wallpaper, and this is at the very end. When John finally gets into the room and finds his wife creeping around on the floor with the wallpaper in tatters, she says to him:

'I've got out at last,' said I, 'in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!'

Typo Argument

It is possible that Jane is a typo for Jennie since Jennie lives in the house and has been a caretaker for the narrator. In this scenario, the narrator is telling her husband that she has managed to escape his controlling influence as well as Jennie's. In a way, this makes some sense since both John and Jennie have exerted considerable control over the narrator.

Against the Typo Argument

At a certain point in the story, though, the narrator appears to have merged with the woman in the wallpaper. For example, the narrator tells us toward the end, 'I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!' Pretty creepy, but assuming that the narrator is now speaking from both her perspective (i.e. the woman we have come to know as the narrator) and the perspective of the woman behind the wallpaper, it does not make sense that she would see Jennie as one of her captors.

Jane Is the Narrator

On the other hand, given the merging of the narrator and the woman behind the wallpaper, there is an argument to be made for Jane being the narrator's name. First, the comments that we read from the narrator are now from the perspective of both the narrator herself and the woman behind the wallpaper. At this point in the story, the narrator has come to identify with the woman trapped behind the wallpaper so much that she has lost the ability to tell the difference between the other (imaginary) woman and herself.

Splitting the Narrator

At the same time that the narrator has merged with the woman in the wallpaper, she has also separated herself into two parts: the part that worked to adopt her husband's perspective, and the other part that she kept hidden away, which longed to be free. Throughout the story, we can see signs of these two parts of the narrator. For example, the narrator tell us, 'John says if I feel so (angry), I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself - before him, at least, and that makes me very tired.'

Separating I and Myself

In the quote above, if you separate the subject 'I' from the object 'myself,' you can get some idea of how the narrator sees 'Jane' as a separate entity. Here, we can assume that 'Jane' was the 'I' who was controlling the actual feelings and personality of the narrator and keeping them hidden away. At the end of the story, however, the 'real' narrator comes out and merges with the woman in the wallpaper, and accuses 'Jane' of trying to keep her submerged.

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