The Yellow Wallpaper: An Analysis of Gender Roles and Mental Illness

The Yellow Wallpaper: An Analysis of Gender Roles and Mental Illness

In the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the narrator, Jane, is a woman who is suffering from mental illness. Throughout the story, the readers are taken on a journey through Jane’s mind as she navigates the societal expectations and gender roles imposed on women during the 19th century.

Jane is married to a man named John, who is a doctor and believes he knows what is best for his wife. Although he is loving and supportive, John’s views on women and mental illness are influenced by the strict societal norms of the time. He thinks that Jane’s illness can be cured through rest, isolation, and avoidance of any stimulating activities.

Jane’s main source of companionship is her sister-in-law, Jennie, who acts as a caregiver and assists in taking care of the narrator and her newborn child. Although Jennie is kind and understanding, she too adheres to the gender roles and limitations imposed on women during that era.

The wallpaper in the narrator’s bedroom becomes a symbol throughout the story as it represents the woman within herself that Jane wants to liberate. The yellow color of the wallpaper can be seen as a manifestation of Jane’s own mental state. As the story progresses, we see Jane becoming more obsessed with the wallpaper and its patterns, as she starts to see a trapped woman within its design.

The Yellow Wallpaper Characters

Jennie, on the other hand, is a practical and caring lady who takes care of the household. Although she wants to help the narrator, she is limited by the strict gender roles imposed on women during this time period. She is depicted as a nurturing character, often taking care of the newborn child.

John, the narrator’s husband, is a physician who thinks he knows what is best for his wife. He believes that rest and isolation will cure her mental illness, even though the narrator objects and wants to break free from the confined space. Mary, another character, is a woman who suffers from a similar mental illness and has experienced the same treatment from her husband.

Throughout the story, Gilman is critical of the traditional gender roles that restrict women and their ability to express themselves. The yellow wallpaper symbolizes the oppression and confinement women faced during this time. The narrator’s descent into madness is a reflection of the insanity that can arise from trying to suppress one’s own desires and needs.

The Narrator’s Internal Struggle

The narrator’s gradual descent into madness is a result of the internal struggle she faces throughout the story. She is torn between the expectations placed on her by her husband and society, and her own desires and dreams. The yellow wallpaper becomes a physical manifestation of her imprisonment and the mental torment she feels.

Gender Roles and Mental Illness

One of the main themes of The Yellow Wallpaper is the critique of gender roles and their impact on mental health. The strict gender roles imposed on women during this time prevented them from fully expressing themselves and led to a stifling of their creativity and individuality.

Furthermore, the treatment of mental illness during this time was often oppressive and ineffective. Women were expected to suffer silently and conform to societal expectations, even if it meant sacrificing their own well-being. The yellow wallpaper serves as a symbol of this oppressive treatment, with its peeling and decaying patterns reflecting the decay of the narrator’s mind.

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Woman in the Wallpaper

Jane, the main character and narrator, is a lady who wants nothing more than to have a say in her own life. She yearns to write and express herself creatively, but her strict husband, John, believes that such activities will only exacerbate her mental condition. Despite her desperate pleas, Jane’s concerns are dismissed and she is denied agency.

In contrast, there are other women in the story who also suffer from the traditional gender roles imposed by their husbands. Jennie, John’s sister, is relegated to the role of a caregiver, tending to the needs of her brother and his wife. Mary, the newborn child, is another character who is affected by the oppressive gender norms. Although not old enough to understand, she is already confined by a society that places limitations on her based on her gender.

The woman in the wallpaper represents all women who have been stifled and silenced throughout history. She is a symbol of the mental and emotional torment that comes from being trapped in oppressive gender roles. The narrator herself becomes obsessed with the woman in the wallpaper, seeing her as a reflection of her own suppressed desires and frustrations.

List of Characters:

  • Jane – The narrator and main character
  • John – Jane’s husband
  • Jennie – John’s sister
  • Mary – The newborn child
  • The Woman in the Wallpaper – Symbolic representation of women’s oppression

Although the story is set in the late 19th century, the themes explored in “The Yellow Wallpaper” are still relevant today. It serves as a reminder of the importance of allowing women to express themselves and break free from traditional gender roles that can have detrimental effects on their mental health.


When describing Mary, the narrator compares her to Jennie, the woman who takes care of the house. The narrator wants to be closer to Jennie, as she thinks Jennie understands her better than Mary. Mary, on the other hand, is seen as someone who adheres strictly to societal norms and expectations. The narrator believes that Mary will judge her if she finds out about the deep obsession the narrator develops with the yellow wallpaper.

Furthermore, Mary is also associated with the narrator’s newborn child. The narrator mentions that Mary interferes with the way the child is taken care of, expressing her dislike for how Mary handles the child. This further emphasizes the conflict between the narrator and Mary, as their views on womanhood, motherhood, and the roles and responsibilities of women differ.

Who is Jane in the Yellow Wallpaper

Jane is a woman who wants to break free from the strict gender roles that society imposes upon her. Although she is a mother and a wife, she is not fulfilled by these roles alone. She yearns for something more and feels trapped within the confines of her traditional gender role.

Jane’s husband, John, thinks that her mental illness can be cured through rest and isolation. He prescribes a strict regimen for her, including forbidding her to write or engage in any intellectual activity. This further exacerbates Jane’s mental state, as she is not able to express herself or engage in activities that bring her joy.

Jane’s interactions with other characters in the story, such as Jennie and Mary, also contribute to her declining mental health. They view her as fragile and treat her accordingly, which only reinforces the idea that she is not capable of taking care of herself.

Throughout the story, Jane develops an obsession with the yellow wallpaper in her room. She believes that there is a woman trapped behind the wallpaper and wants to set her free. This obsession symbolizes her desire to break free from the confines of her gender role and the societal expectations placed upon her.

John, Jennie, and The Yellow Wallpaper Character List

The women who play important roles in the story “The Yellow Wallpaper” are the mental illness sufferer, the narrator, Jane, and the lady in the wallpaper. These characters, although not named directly, are significant in bringing out the themes of gender roles and mental illness throughout the story.

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John, the narrator’s husband, is one of the most prominent characters in the story. He is portrayed as a physician who thinks he knows what is best for his wife’s mental state. Although he loves his wife, he subscribes to strict gender roles of the time, which prevent him from fully understanding her needs.

Jennie, John’s sister, also plays an important role in the story. She is seen as the perfect woman within society’s standards – caring, nurturing, and competent. However, she is also a product of the strict gender roles imposed on women during that time, which limits her ability to see the true suffering of the narrator.

The Yellow Wallpaper serves as both a physical and metaphorical representation of the narrator’s mental state. It becomes a symbol of her oppression and deteriorating mental health. The woman trapped within the wallpaper represents the narrator’s suppressed desires and a reflection of her own struggles and confinement.

Although not explicitly named in the story, these characters are crucial in understanding the themes and messages conveyed by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. They showcase the limited understanding and empathy that the women in the story face from society, their husbands, and even themselves.


Can you provide an analysis of the gender roles and mental illness in “The Yellow Wallpaper”?

“The Yellow Wallpaper” offers a nuanced exploration of gender roles and mental illness. The story highlights the restricted role of women in society at the time, as the protagonist is confined to the wallpapered room by her doctor husband, John. This confinement symbolizes the oppressive nature of gender roles, as the narrator is stripped of her agency and autonomy. Additionally, the story delves into the theme of mental illness, portraying the descent of the protagonist into madness. The wallpaper becomes a central symbol, representing the narrator’s deteriorating mental state. Overall, “The Yellow Wallpaper” demonstrates the detrimental effects of societal expectations on women and the subsequent impact on mental health.

Who are the main characters in “The Yellow Wallpaper”?

The main characters in “The Yellow Wallpaper” are the unnamed narrator, her husband John, and John’s sister Jennie. The narrator is a woman suffering from mental illness, who is confined to a room with yellow wallpaper as a treatment. John is a physician and the narrator’s husband, who believes he is acting in her best interest by restricting her activities. Jennie is John’s sister, who serves as a caretaker for the narrator. These characters contribute to the development of the story and its themes surrounding gender roles and mental illness.

What is the significance of the woman in the wallpaper?

The woman in the wallpaper holds significant symbolism in the story. She represents the narrator’s own mental state and the oppression she feels within her restrictive gender role. As the narrator’s mental health deteriorates, she becomes obsessed with the woman in the wallpaper. The woman is portrayed as trapped, just like the narrator, and the act of tearing down the wallpaper represents the narrator’s desire to find liberation from her own mental prison. The woman in the wallpaper serves as a manifestation of the narrator’s own suppressed desires and frustrations.

Who is Jane in “The Yellow Wallpaper”?

In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” there is no character named Jane. The main character, who remains unnamed, is the narrator of the story. However, it is important to note that the absence of a name for the narrator further symbolizes her lack of individuality and autonomy in a patriarchal society. The story focuses on her experiences and struggles with mental illness, as well as her confinement in the yellow wallpapered room.

Can you provide a list of characters in “The Yellow Wallpaper”?

The main characters in “The Yellow Wallpaper” include: the unnamed narrator, John (the narrator’s husband who is also a physician), and Jennie (John’s sister). These characters play significant roles in the development of the story, particularly in exploring the themes of gender roles and mental illness.

What is the role of gender in “The Yellow Wallpaper”?

The role of gender in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is central to the story. It explores the experiences and expectations placed on women in the 19th century and how these societal roles can contribute to mental illness.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.