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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.

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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.

Why Do We Only Learn Her Name at the End?

Yes, it probably would have been less confusing at the end if Gilman had told us the narrator’s name earlier in the book. It is likely, however, that she failed to give the narrator a name in an effort to underscore how little the narrator’s identity was valued in the household. Everyone else is named, but the narrator is never identified at all. Even the narrator herself often discounts her own observations and feelings and focuses instead on the perspectives of others in the household. The ending is the one place where the narrator demonstrates agency, and we finally learn her name.

The Reader is Meant to Wonder

Given this reason for only revealing the name at the end, the reader is probably supposed to ask, ‘Who is Jane?’ Once we realize that Jane is the narrator, it should then occur to us that we never knew who she was during the story, either. This rendition makes the reader complicit in devaluing the character.

Ultimately, – we find ourselves confused by her name at the end of the story, even though we have been reading from her perspective all along. Just like John at the end, we are asking questions about the narrator’s identity that we should have been asking all along.

Lesson Summary

There are two theories as to the identity of ‘Jane’ at the end of The Yellow Wallpaper: it is either a typo for Jennie, the caregiver, or Jane is the narrator. There is more support for the theory that Jane is the narrator because we can see how the narrator kept her own identity hidden away. Also, revealing the narrator’s name only at the end reinforces the idea that her identity was undervalued throughout the story, even by the reader.

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