112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

When Is a Jane Not a Jane?: The Fixtures and Furnishings of Patriarchy in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Emily Handy, Winthrop University

This paper interrogates Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-paper” in an attempt to delineate the identity of Jane from the destabilized narrator at the story’s end. In pursuing this distinction, this paper argues that the room that the narrator inhabits, furnished by patriarchal fixtures, is a macrocosm of the narrator’s mind.

Proposal: 

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-paper” is a story that contains a dynamic change within its narrator—a transformation that strips acceptable behavior and even sanity from the narrator like so much wallpaper, revealing a separate figure within.  This second figure claims a second narrative voice that is nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the narrative, save in her third-person reference to the initial narrator, Jane.  The question of when the narrator turns from Jane to this woman-from-out-of-the-wallpaper, or even where the two narrations begin to switch or overlap, is a question of identity whose answer may lie in its intersection with another narrative conundrum: does the narrator’s self-consciousness derive from the private space of her mind or the oppressive patriarchal construction of her surroundings?  If from her surroundings, why should this self-chastisement continue once the wallpaper has been cast off?  Between these two questions is a revelation of narrative voice that, beyond shedding light on where Jane ceases to be Jane, suggests the limitations of agency that persist in a space ostensibly made free—where the fixtures of patriarchal thought, though damaged, remain.  My presentation of Gilman’s story reads the narrator’s wallpapered room as a macrocosm for the narrator’s mind. This space is made analogous to the narrator’s fluctuating identity through the ways in which she can or cannot effectively represent herself within its walls. This presents the room, its furnishings, and its wallpaper as maps of the reaches and limitations of the narrator’s agency, as well as of the space between the narrators themselves. Though “The Yellow Wall-paper” is well-discussed, conversation surrounding this distinction between Jane and the narrator who refers to Jane in third-person is often missing or glossed over in criticism of the text, therefore marking this inquiry a fresh critical focus for the piece. Among the criticism that does acknowledge a discrepancy between Jane and the non-Jane narrator, Barbara A Suess’ Lacanian reading of Gilman’s text serves as a platform for my argument through its investigation into the development and alteration of the narrator’s identity, especially as influenced by her living space. My intent, thus, is to encourage debate regarding the shift in narrative identity in Gilman’s text while simultaneously arguing that this dual narrative agency is indicative of, and expressed within, the immobile patriarchal fixtures and wallpapered walls of the narrator’s oppressive enclosure.   

This paper is able to be presented in 15-20 minutes.  This presentation does not require any AV technology.