The Yellow Wallpaper, composed by Charlotte Gilman in 1892, is a short story, which depicts the life of the female narrator and her confrontation against traditional perspectives on medicine. In the 19th century, most mental health complications were considered temporary tendencies or matters of superstition. The physicians rejected the idea that nervous depression is a severe disease that might cause significant damage to health. Consequently, the narrator’s husband partially denies the possibility of her sickness because she is a woman and might have a mere hysterical tendency. Overall, the rejection of mental health issues is prevalent throughout the short story and transparently describes the attitude toward such conditions in the 19th century.
The Yellow Wallpaper is composed in a journal form from the first-person perspective. The narrator is a woman who suffers from a certain type of nervous trouble after giving birth. John – her husband and a working physician – believes that this condition is a temporary nervous depression and that his wife only requires rest. The narrator describes John as a loving and caring man who does his best efforts to cure her; however, she does not agree with his methods and cannot convince him otherwise. Furthermore, the narrator’s brother is also a physician of high standing who agrees with John that her condition is merely a temporary inconvenience. As a result, the author consents to the treatment of rest cure while neglecting the possible consequences of the disease.
For the purpose of treatment, the narrator and her husband decide to spend some time at a colonial mansion, which is the appropriate environment for the recess. John prohibits any type of work or excitement and claims that the narrator should only rest, take strolls, and perform light physical exercises. In turn, the author disagrees with this prescription again but does not explicitly object to it. She believes that she requires some excitement, change, and activity to get better, but John is profusely against it. As a result, the narrator’s condition gets significantly worse after spending two weeks at the mansion due to boredom and lack of personal space.
The issue is further complicated by the selection of the room for the bed rest. The narrator is genuinely impressed by the beauty of the mansion and the garden; however, John confines her to the nursery space on the second floor since it is the most suitable room for the treatment. It is a spacious and airy place, but the narrator feels imprisoned in it due to the barred windows and obscure yellow wallpaper. She unsuccessfully attempts to persuade John to change the rooms or renovate the nursery space but eventually gives up. Ultimately, she tolerates the room due to the spacious place and the lovely views from the windows; however, she is distressed by the horrid yellow wallpaper.
As the days go by, the narrator studies the wallpaper patterns out of boredom and anxiety. Eventually, she starts noticing various details, such as torn-off spots, scratches, and color variations. As a result, the wallpaper occupies her mind for the majority of the day, and she admits that she likes the room because of the wallpaper. Aside from walks in the garden, she spends most of her time studying the curves and patterns of the wallpaper and depicts them in the journal. Eventually, she comes to the conclusion that a woman is creeping behind the wallpaper, making the narrator simultaneously excited and terrified.
Nevertheless, she is anxious to share these findings with anyone due to the fear of being ridiculed and rejected. So, she continues to study the wallpaper and movements of the trapped woman during the days and nights. In the journal, she uses complicated metaphors and literary devices to explain the design of the wallpaper and the confinement of the person behind it. As a result, the narrator is constantly anxious, sleep-deprived, and paranoid. She even starts thinking that John and his sister Jennie know about the woman from the wallpaper as well. The author expresses that she frequently notices them staring at the wall and touching it.
As the narrator becomes more paranoid, she believes that her condition improves as well. She feels energetic, cheerful, full of life, and has a purpose of uncovering the mysteries of the wallpaper. The author believes that the yellow smell has spread all over the mansion and is following her. Consequently, as the delusions grow stronger, she sees the woman behind the wallpaper shaking the bars in an attempt to free herself. The author decides to help her and peels off the wallpaper. The narrative in the journal also changes drastically as the writing becomes full of extreme ideas, such as jumping out of the window, and accusations of John and Jennie. During the last night at the mansion, the narrator has finally peeled off the entirety of the wallpaper and freed the woman. Ultimately, when John comes back home in the morning, he breaks down the door and sees his wife creeping all over the room and not recognizing him. The narrator has succumbed to the disease and become the woman confined in the wallpaper, mindlessly creeping in circles all over the room.