Wordsworth Essay, Research Paper

Name: Polly Chrysochou

Department: Faculty of English Literature, Short Stories

Assignment: Dissertation on “The Yellow Wallpaper”

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 obtain 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 surface 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 night 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 to 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 is, 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 two 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, are 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.”

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Et Aul, Freud, Ego and Id (sorry, I don’t use the MLA)

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