Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is an evocative story about a woman who has postpartum Depression. However, closer scrutiny of the protagonist’s description and portrayal reveal that it is more about her struggles with identity. The protagonist draws an illustration of a fictional woman. At first, she is called her shadow. However, her struggle with identity becomes clearer when her shadow starts to rattling against wallpaper’s bars.
The protagonist, who is kept in her own room and not allowed to go out of it, becomes delusional. The room has “barred windows and rings for small children” and is like a prison (Gilman 648). Even the wallpaper’s pattern becomes “barred” when she is in darkness (Gilman 653). She refers to the rooms features as bars in both cases. As she begins to feel trapped in her bedroom, the protagonist protrudes some of her emotions into wallpaper. However the notion that the room acts as her prison turns from a metaphorical to a literal meaning as her imprisonment intensifies and she longs to escape. In the end, the woman behind wallpaper turns out to be a complicated hallucination compared with the shadowy silhouette at the beginning. The woman behind the wallpaper appears to be a formless woman, hiding behind a conspicuous and silly front design. This is similar to the shadows that all matter possess (Gilman 652). The wallpaper attempts to make her sick, but this is also changed by the end. The gradual personality shift she experiences is due to her isolation in her yellow room. The shadow’s form takes on a unique shape when her depression grips her more. The mirage takes shape due to the protagonist’s constant loneliness and her obsessiveness over her surroundings. She wrote in her journal that she didn’t understand for a long period what was behind the dim sub-pattern. But now, I know it’s a woman. (Gilman 653) She sees the shadow not as another human form.
This is because her shadow’s silhouette is also her wish for it to be. The fact that this “thing”, or woman, is called a woman allows her to express herself. The “dim pattern” is the bar that gives way to her shadow. It becomes a trap for her, and she takes on the identity as if it were a human. Her shifting identity is revealed by her transformation from a formless shadow into a hidden woman. Initial impressions are that the woman behind the wallpaper is the woman in the shadows. According to Gilman 654, she claimed that she saw the woman on the long road beneath the trees and was “climbing along”, but when she sees a carriage, she hides behind the blackberry vines. These figures could possibly be the shadows from the plants and animals that grow in the garden. She may have morphed into this artificial woman in her mind. She envisions the woman as able to escape during daylight, which would be consistent with her desires to escape the outside world and to interact with people.
Also, the protagonist sees the woman as her vicariously. The sections in which she starts to mimic the actions of the woman, such as creeping into her bedroom during the day, are evidence of her jealousy (Gilman 655). She is free from the nursery she occupies by using the hallucination. The protagonist appears to be behind wallpaper. However, if someone looks inside, it would be her. The yellow wallpaper room is her prison. She taunts her each night with her freedom, until finally the protagonist rips it away.
The story’s end reveals the total breakdown of the protagonist’s identity. Jane writes that she “has finally gotten out” (Gilman 656). And I’ve pulled away most of this paper, so don’t try to take me back!” Gilman 656. Although it seems difficult to catch, perhaps because Jennie is her sister in law, Jane is a new name. The narrator provides her own story, so her name is never mentioned. John is able to find her creeping about the room towards the end. This could only have happened if the person who is speaking is Jane. Jane and shadow woman seem to have swapped places. Jane, now Jane’s new mind, is now Jane from the outside.
The story of “The Yellow Wallpaper” seems to focus on a woman who is driven mad by isolation and postpartum depression. But it’s more than that. The illusion of the protagonist’s shadow against wallpaper’s patterns drives her insane and eventually leads to her believing she and the “woman” have swapped places. While the story is disturbing because it centers on something sinister and the plot is intriguing, the writing is excellent. This story is full of information about mistreatment of women in 19th-century America and the limits of the human mind before it snaps.