In Charlotte P Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper", how is the theme of identity used?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The notion of identity is a fairly prevalent theme in Gilman's work.  On one level, the woman is striving to form her own identity in the wake of what "society" says.  In this instance, society would represent the doctors and husband who demand that she remain isolated and take bed rest.  The belief of society is that she "needs rest" while the belief of the woman might be quite different.  In this difference, one sees the theme of identity emerge as what she sees as herself is vastly different from what society says.  Her desire to create her own identity is stifled through her inability to write in her journal or compose her own sense of self.  Essentially, the only freedom to create her identity might lie in the ability to see how the wallpaper features individuals who, like her, are trapped and subjugated.  It is this exploration of identity which causes the woman to tear down the wallpaper.  In the final analysis, the stifling of identity is what causes the woman to do what she does and, in this sense, a drastic statement about what happens when society denies voice emerges.

imrul23 | Student

The Yellow Wallpaper explores the consequences of a loss of identity from a women's perspective.In reading this story,it is important to keep in mind that in the 19th Century,women were discouraged from exercising their intellect.Gilman herself suffered from post natal depression.

The woman herself becomes the wallpaper.She loses her identity as well as her sanity.She crawls about the room and exclaims upon seeing her husband: 'I've got out at last.' This getting out is symbolical,as it represents escaping from society's hollow beliefs.

Therefore the 'loss of identity' is symbolical as well as real.The woman is no longer sane,her mild depression has been sparked to something more sinister.Symbolically,it shows how women as a whole are subjugated/oppressed in society.

mclaake | Student

The Yellow Wallpaper was written in 1899, but describes a vivid transition and loss of a woman’s identity through illness, loneliness and growing despair that is as believable today as at the turn of the century when little was known of depression, paranoia or treatment for emotional stress.

The story is written in first person, in the form of journal entries, by a woman who has recently given birth and is not well. Her doting husband cares for her, but at the same time restricts her movement, communication and contact with the outside world.  Her psyche is represented by the increasingly threatening wallpaper in the room where she is becoming weaker and more isolated by the day. 

Each entry in the journal describes her increased disconnect with reality, no longer identifying with the world outside, but instead fixated on the intricate, never-ending design of the wallpaper  that she stares at all day. Eventually she sees a slight movement and then shadowy figures in the paper, ultimately losing her identity to the madness and loneliness as she becomes one of the creeping figures in the yellow wallpaper.  She gradually loses the decorum expected of women, especially the wife of a doctor and in those times.  The woman’s identity is transformed from one of recovering wife and mother to a shadowy creeping figure embedded in the yellowed design of the wallpaper in the room. The journal narrative artfully describes her decent into depression as her terror and “nervousness” increase and she imagines she become the creatures that she fears.

You can also track her attempts to maintain her various identities as wife, mother, writer, sister and woman, all in vain.  Along with this theme of identity, the author clearly advocates involvement, activity and interaction to prevent insanity.

Another interesting aside is that the author, Gilman, wrote that she had written the story because she had experienced a similar "cure" for "melancholia" that included total rest, no writing, and very little intellectual exercise.




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The Yellow Wallpaper

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