The importance of the wallpaper in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, and the ‘three’ sides of Jane The ‘trio’ in Jane In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Gilman makes direct or indirect reference to objects which play a symbolic role within the context of the story and elucidate its thematic fibre, a fibre which revolves around the main character and whose essence is integrated in her inner constitution.
Thus, in order to come to terms with the story and draw certain conclusions based on this fibre, it is crucial to examine these objects and what they symbolise within this thematic fibre and btain a better understanding of the main character. The main object which forms the backdrop to this fibre and generates the thread of action is the wallpaper itself, a mirror image of the heroine Jane and her cohesive selves, an opaque medium into the subdivisions of her own mind.
Jane, who is also the narrator of the story and its centre of consciousness, is recounting her domesticated and repressed way of life, as well as her husband’s treatment of her as a result of her postpartum depression. What emerges, however, from Jane’s exposition, becomes a sinister paradox open to diverse interpretation, for what comes to the urface as a result of Jane’s constant obsession with the wallpaper is an unnerving sense that she is suffering not only from postpartum depression, but also from multiple schizophrenia.
Her own narration in effect becomes an egocentric psychoanalysis where the fibre of her identities can be divested and detached little by little by the reader, and constant references to the wallpaper allow for this process since it is the wallpaper itself which forms the fibre of Jane’s selves. One such instance is when Jane claims that the wallpaper changes color by night: “By moonlight- the moon shines in all ight when there is a moon- I wouldn’t know it was the same paper.
Here, very clearly, we have a juxtaposition of two dissociated identities, with the change in the color of the wallpaper stressing the shift in both identity and role. Jane’s delirium is set off by her constant shifting or playing off of self from one ego to the other. At night a different self emerges and, since the wallpaper is nothing other than a projection of Jane’s selves, it becomes feasible that the wallpaper should also change aspect as one Jane is played off against the other.
Furthermore, in several cases of the disease which Jane seems o show signs of, the patient loses sight of one personality as the other sets in. Hence it would be logical for Jane not to recognise the paper since it is a side of her which becomes disconnected from her conscious mind as soon as the transformation has taken place. One of Freud’s theories in psychoanalysis is very explicit about this dissociation.
Freud, for instance, claims that systems of thought can be split off from each other and congeal into a secondary personality that is unconscious: “We have come upon something in the ego itself which is also unconscious, which behaves exactly like the repressed- that s, which produces powerful effects without itself being conscious and which requires special work before it can be made conscious. ” (Sigmund Freud’s The Ego and the Id, 1923, pgs. 8-9) In simple terms, repression in Freudian psychoanalysis is visualized as the split between the conscious and unconscious minds.
Separate and dissociated aspects of consciousness may exist, but they are in constant conflict. The subliminal tries to emerge on the surface. The wallpaper in The Yellow Wallpaper is ‘repression’; it incorporates two planes of consciousness within Jane’s own mind, two planes in battle. The repressed and unconscious self behind that wallpaper is struggling to come out, but it ‘requires special work before it can be made conscious, and this can be seen in the violent struggle which occurs at the transition phase: “I pulled and she shook.
I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper. ” Here the narrator’s words reveals more than an intensity of the obsessed mind. The use of words such as “shook” and “pulled” suggest the battle between the conscious and the unconscious, the power which thrusts the unconscious into being. The wallpaper again reflects wo planes of consciousness, but as it is divested by the conscious side of Jane, the repressed and unconscious side can take the role of the conscious.
Also, the fact that” pulled” and “shook” switch roles in the struggle, with “I pulled” turning into “I shook” and the same evident shift with “she”- the secondary personality- shows the submergence of the selves, with the wallpaper as medium. ET Aul, who suffers from this disease commonly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, has written in her autobiography As You Desire Me: The Psychology of a Multiple Personality: “Those with dissociated identities, with “split” personalities, re locked into one or more roles, and their changes from role to role are dictated by their circumstances rather than their own choice.
The change may be completely out of their control and they may, or may not, be aware of it. ” Hence, Jane’s struggle, or transition, is beyond her control and she cannot be aware of it. “I wouldn’t know it was the same paper” proves this- she is not aware of the two planes of consciousness within her own mind anymore than she is aware of the conflict of the planes themselves. When her husband faints after her transition and her conspicuous outburst “I’ve got out in spite f you and Jane.
And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back! she says obliviously “Now why should that man have fainted? ” To her, the Jane that has ‘got out at last’ and the Jane that has now merged into the wallpaper of her unconscious mind are two totally different identities. The unconscious has now become both conscious and real. However, the wallpaper itself is not only a projection of Jane’s conscious and unconscious. The field of interpretation can be taken to a much higher level when we speak of “split” personalities as stressed by ET Aul.
The wallpaper is, in act, a mirror image of three identities, or “split” personalities, two of which are conscious and one which is unconscious at first. The former two, for the sake of argument, we shall identify as Jane 1 and 2, the latter as Jane 3. All of these sides are locked into Jane’s own mind. Jane 1 is the conscious and yet repressed writer recounting the incidents as they occur to her. A sense of freedom, the freedom to exercise the power of the will, is evident. However, Jane 1 says that “[she] must say what [she] feel[s] and think[s] in some way- it is such a relief! Note the necessity of having to rite, which is stressed by the italicised ‘must. ‘
There is freedom to write, but there is no freedom of choice. Et Aul stresses how “their changes from role to role are dictated by their circumstances rather than their own choice. ” Consciously, Jane 1 is aware that her freedom is repressed. The Jane 2 in her, the woman behind the ‘bars’, the ‘subdued, quiet’ woman, is seeking a way out of her oppression. The circumstance of being oppressed forces the writer, Jane 1, onto the surface. However, Jane 2 did not ‘choose’ to be oppressed.
Jane 1 did not ‘choose’ to write. Both, on the other hand, want to be ree. Unconsciously, Jane moulds a model of herself as free, a model which she integrates into reality, a model she incorporates into Jane 1 and 2. Jane 1 is free to write but her husband “hates to have [her] write a word. ” On the other hand, the model of Jane 2 is, on the surface, ‘free’. In her conscious mind, Jane 2 can break away from being a prisoner: “I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping all round the garden.
However, Jane 2 can ‘creep’, but her freedom is still oppressed. The garden is restrictive, it denotes boundaries. The house itself and its environs are like a prison that lock away freedom- “for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock” As a result, Jane 1 and 2, which are two levels of consciousness, want to be free, mould models to give vent to that sense of freedom, but are ‘not’ as free as the unconscious side we have referred to as Jane 3, for Jane 3 is the perfect model that both sides wish to become.
Jane 3 is the side which is capable of absolutely anything, the side which is prepared even to kill to gain freedom- “But I am here, and no person touches this paper but Me- not alive! ” Note the portentous bearing of the italicised ‘alive’ and the capitalised ‘Me’ which, when juxtaposed, indicate her majestic sense of power over others. Here, very clearly, we have the sense of a psychotic and determined mind, the mad Jane that will gain her freedom at all costs, no matter what the price- “I thought seriously of burning the house- to reach the smell” foreshadows very sinister implications.
Obviously it does ‘not’ show the workings of ‘a normal mind’. It shows the violent side of the Jane we have identified as Jane 3. She is the one that emerges in the end. She is the liberated self, a symbol f the submergence of the two other identities. The unconscious and repressed Jane 3 is now the conscious and very real embodiment of the other two sides, but with more powerful drive. The unconscious may “require special work before it can be made conscious”, but it ‘does’ become conscious.
After all that wallpaper is divested from the mind of consciousness and after Jane has managed to “peel off yards of that paper”, what seeps through onto the surface becomes both ominous and very disturbing, especially as ET Aul made no reference to the ‘number’ of “split” personalities; ‘all’ sides of Jane may be inked to the wallpaper- Jane 1, as writer, scribbles words that are like ‘the lame uncertain curves’ on the wallpaper, curves depicting suicide because on paper this is what she is portraying- at least metaphorically speaking, and the Jane 2, as prisoner, fancies a pattern of bars on the paper, while Jane 3 is triggered on by the ‘smell’- but the paper is representing traits from ‘three’, separate identities; does it not give one a very unnerving sense to read in the redounding and very meaningful words “Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind [the pattern of the wallpaper]” a much higher and a more diverse interpretation?