The Yellow Wallpaper Characters
The characters in “The Yellow Wallpaper” are the narrator, John, Jennie, and Mary.
- The narrator is a young woman who develops an illness, which John terms “temporary nervous depression,” after the birth of her child. She is confined to bed and discouraged from writing—previously her creative outlet—after John prescribes a “rest cure.”
- John, the narrator’s husband, is a physician. He tries to control the narrator’s emotional and imaginative life, and believes that only rest will relieve her symptoms.
- Jennie is John’s sister and the couple’s housekeeper.
- Mary appears to be a nurse who takes care of the narrator’s baby.
Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 373
There are only four characters in “The Yellow Wallpaper”: the narrator, her husband, and two of their servants. The story’s short length precludes the complex character background and development that can occur in longer works. To ensure that readers access the ideas she wants to communicate, Gilman employs archetypes—the repressed, anxious housewife and the self-satisfied, domineering husband—rather than extensively documenting individual traits. As a result, Gilman’s characters are recognizable and still broad enough to resonate with readers.
The narrator is an upper-middle-class young woman who has just given birth to a baby boy. She suffers from an unnamed affliction, which her physician husband, John, diagnoses as “temporary nervous depression.” He prescribes a behavioral regimen akin to the “rest cure,” a treatment in which patients minimize mental and physical stimulation and rest in bed for long periods of time... (Read our extended character analysis of the narrator.)
The narrator’s husband, John, is an esteemed physician. Unlike his wife, John lacks imagination and believes solely in science and practicality. Following the birth of their child, he controls every aspect of his wife’s recovery. Although he claims to want his wife to make her own choices, he dismisses her requests to move to a different room, prevents her from seeing her friends, and denies her the mental stimulation she craves... (Read our extended character analysis of John.)
Jennie, John’s sister and the narrator’s sister-in-law, serves as their housekeeper. She gradually usurps the role that the narrator had once hoped to fill, managing the entirety of the household’s affairs. Like John, she is someone from whom the narrator must conceal her desires and activities. Jennie represents the ideal 19th-century woman and demonstrates the oppressive effect that ideal has on women like the narrator who want something else for themselves.
Mary is mentioned only once in the story, when she is described as “good with the baby.” Readers can infer that she is a nurse who has been hired to take care of the narrator’s child. At the time Gilman was writing, it was not unusual for middle-to-upper-class households to employ caregivers for their children, regardless of the mother’s health or level of involvement.