The Yellow Wallpaper

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Mental Illness and its Treatment Theme Analysis

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Gender Roles and Domestic Life Theme Icon
Outward Appearance vs. Inner Life Theme Icon
Self-Expression, Miscommunication, and Misunderstanding Theme Icon
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Reading the series of diary entries that make up the story, the reader is in a privileged position to witness the narrator’s evolving and accelerating descent into madness, foreshadowed by her mounting paranoia and obsession with the mysterious figure behind the pattern of the yellow wallpaper.

As the portrayal of a woman’s gradual mental breakdown, The Yellow Wallpaper offers the reader a window into the perception and treatment of mental illness in the late nineteenth century. In the style of a Gothic horror story, the tale follows the gradual deterioration of its narrator’s mental state, but it also explores the ways that her husband John’s attempted treatment aggravates this decline. In one sense, then, the story is a propaganda piece criticizing a specific way of ‘curing’ mental illness. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the author of the story, suffered from post-partum depression and, in circumstances very similar to those of the story’s narrator, was prescribed a ‘rest cure’ by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, who is mentioned by name in her tale. She underwent a mental breakdown as a result of this enforced idleness, which forbade any form of writing or work outside of the domestic sphere. The forced confinement of the story’s narrator, and her husband’s injunctions against writing or other activity, mirror this ‘rest cure’ in the author’s life.

John, the narrator’s husband, serves also as her de facto doctor. As such, he is a model of traditional attitudes toward mental illness. He is driven purely by practicalities, prescribing self-control above all else, and warning against anything that he sees as indulging his wife’s dangerous imagination or hysteria. His refusal to acknowledge his wife’s concerns about her own mental state as legitimate, or to listen to her various requests – about their choice of room, receiving visitors, leaving the house, her writing or, of course, the wallpaper – ultimately contributes to her breakdown, as she finds herself trapped, alone, and unable to make her inner struggles understood. This feeling of powerlessness, of an inability to communicate, is portrayed with special horror to inspire empathy in a progressive reader, who may have been moved to reconsider methods such as the rest cure of Weir Mitchell.

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Mental Illness and its Treatment ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Mental Illness and its Treatment appears in each section of The Yellow Wallpaper. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Mental Illness and its Treatment Quotes in The Yellow Wallpaper

Below you will find the important quotes in The Yellow Wallpaper related to the theme of Mental Illness and its Treatment .
First Entry Quotes

John is a physician, and PERHAPS—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—PERHAPS that is one reason I do not get well faster.
You see he does not believe I am sick!
And what can one do?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Related Symbols: The Diary
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines are the first clue that the narrator is sick in some way, and signal that what we are reading is a secret diary. There is a dark humor in the suggestion that the reason the narrator remains sick is that her husband is a doctor. This is a bitter joke criticizing doctors, and particularly male doctors who misunderstand (or condescendingly refuse to trust or believe) their female patients. Here, again, John is shown as being incapable of taking his wife’s mental illness seriously, believing her sickness to be the result of her "fancy" and fragility as a woman and not an actual illness. The narrator’s helplessness in the face of her doctor-husband’s judgment reveals how little agency women had over their own lives at the time, and suggests that this lack of control is in fact what is causing her sickness (in part, at least). This jab at doctors also begins Gilman’s attack on her own, real-life doctor, Dr. Weir Mitchell, who prescribed to Gilman a "rest cure" similar to the forced idleness enforced upon the narrator in this short story. 

The fact that the story in our hands is a secret diary also creates a close relationship between reader and narrator, since we are privileged to see critical parts of her thinking that other characters in the story cannot. In one sense, then, the distinction between “living souls” and “dead paper” is a false one, since we, as readers, are essentially a living audience for the narrator—we are "living souls" who are hearing what she has to say through the "dead paper" upon which she writes. The use of the phrase "dead paper," which in fact might be described as a kind of living connection between the narrator and the reader, also foreshadows the yellow wallpaper of her room—more "dead paper" that seems to become inhabited with a mysterious "living soul."

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He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.

I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more.
He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator describes her husband John's "careful" treatment of her. From her summary of this treatment, it is clear that every moment of her life is strictly controlled by John in his capacity as doctor and head of the household. This control seems stifling, and yet John sees it as a loving exercise, driven by concern for his fragile wife, whose judgment does not figure into his decisions about her treatment. This controlled idleness is what would have been called a "rest cure" in the author's time, and is something that Gilman herself was prescribed by Dr. Weir Mitchell. It seems to be worsening the narrator's condition—and, insidiously, her depression is only increased by the guilt she feels at not appreciating the assigned cure. 

The narrator's tone may again be read as at least partly sarcastic here, since she is clearly suffering as a result of her husband's "special direction." In any case, the narrator's own feelings about her treatment are hidden from her husband, or he is fundamentally unable to understand them—possibly because his society and profession do not value the opinions of women very highly. 

The paint and paper look as if a boys' school had used it. It is stripped off—the paper—in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper in my life.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote describes the narrator's room at the top of the house, and introduces the titular yellow wallpaper to the reader for the first time. Here, again, in the stripped, torn paper, is a clue that the house hides a dark and mysterious past behind its grand exterior—this would also help explain why the vacationing couple were able to acquire it so cheaply. The narrator’s explanation that a “boy’s school” may have used it in the past is thrown into question by what happens later in the story, as she begins to tear the wallpaper herself; there is thus the implication that this room may have once housed a mentally ill woman like the narrator. This suggests that the plight of the narrator is not just her own, but that of many women in her time. The narrator’s misinterpretation of the stripped paper creates suspense in the reader, for whom the torn paper foreshadows the violence of the breakdown to come. Even if the room is, in fact, a former schoolhouse, the fact that it has now become the narrator’s isolation chamber continues to drive home the idea that women are treated as infants by society, fanciful and fragile creatures with no control over their own lives.

Second Entry Quotes

John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious.
I am glad my case is not serious!
But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing.
John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no REASON to suffer, and that satisfies him.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator writes in her diary about her worsening loneliness and boredom. Her husband is neglecting her in favor of his more "serious" patients, and here the potential sarcasm in the narrator’s exclamation that she is glad that her own case is not "serious" comes through more clearly. Whether or not the narrator is aware that her condition is in fact becoming more
"serious," the reader, at least, is warned that her state is deteriorating. John, meanwhile, has entirely failed to understand the severity of his wife’s condition. Driven by sterile reason, a stereotypically male quality, he refuses to give credit to his wife’s feelings of depression, assuming that they are merely a product of her own fancy or "hysteria." Unfortunately this dismissal of the narrator's suffering does nothing to reduce its harmful effects. 

There comes John's sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing. She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John, Jennie
Related Symbols: The Diary
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is the reader's first introduction to John's sister, Jennie, who is helping to run the house while the narrator is sick in bed. The narrator hides the diary at the sound of her approach, underlining the conspiratorial, secretive nature of this writing, and reinforcing the idea that her writing is an act of rebellion against her husband's expectation that she rest in complete idleness, giving up on any idea of more ambitious work. Writing, the narrator's secret ambition, is not fit work for a woman—according to societal expectations of the time. Meanwhile, Jennie's willing and even enthusiastic acceptance of the traditionally female domestic role in the home gives the narrator still more reason to feel guilty at her own rebellious instincts and depression. She is isolated even from another woman in her ambition and her mental illness, and has begun to hide her true self from the rest of the house. 

Third Entry Quotes

But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of wallowing seaweeds in full chase.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator begins to fixate on the yellow wallpaper, seeing her own illness reflected in its horrid patterns (not unlike a Rorschach psychological test, or "inkblot test"). The organic, overwhelming, chaotic images that the narrator selects hint at her own confused inner life. She feels deeply disturbed by the wallpaper's pattern, whose horror chases her every waking moment as she lies idle and alone in this isolated room. The wave imagery, in combination with the reference to wallowing seaweed, gives the impression that the narrator is underwater in this room, drowning in her illness and frustration. She attempts to interpret the seemingly patternless paper, reading meaning into the random, "sprawling outlines." This desperate act of interpretation echoes the reader's quest to take meaning from the patterns of the narrator's diary entries, perceiving hints of secret horror underneath the surface of the narrator's polite tone. 

Fourth Entry Quotes

Dear John! He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia.
But he said I wasn't able to go, nor able to stand it after I got there; and I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator describes another desperate attempt on her part to communicate to her husband how unendurable this "rest cure" really is—but John promptly refuses her request to leave the house and visit their family elsewhere. As the male head of the household, and the physician in charge of the narrator's treatment, John's word is final, and the narrator is powerless to resist. This powerlessness no doubt contributes to her tearful sense of despair, but the tears that she cries as she attempts to convince her husband to listen to her only further discredit her in his eyes, since they signal her status as a fragile, fanciful, emotional woman. The misunderstanding between the narrator and John deepens further, even as she recognizes that he loves her dearly (or thinks he does, at least). He is still fundamentally unable to see that this stifling rest cure is what is causing, or at least worsening, her mental illness.

If we had not used it, that blessed child would have! What a fortunate escape! Why, I wouldn't have a child of mine, an impressionable little thing, live in such a room for worlds.
I never thought of it before, but it is lucky that John kept me here after all, I can stand it so much easier than a baby, you see.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator references her baby, who is rarely mentioned in the story. Speaking about the baby gives the narrator a chance to reaffirm the terror that the room has caused her in terms of what has been spared their child. This is another hint that the room was never a nursery, or a schoolroom, as the torn walls suggested earlier in the tale.  

Although the narrator is separated from her child, and has expressed that thinking about the child is part of what has driven her nerves to begin with—suggesting that she may be suffering at least in part from postpartum depression—she still feels an urge to protect the baby. This also suggests that she feels very honestly threatened and oppressed by her prison-like room, and increasingly so. It is as if she is engaged in a battle of wills with the wallpaper, which represents her own illness, and the only comfort she can find in this struggle is that at least her child is spared from it.


Fifth Entry Quotes

Of course if you were in any danger, I could and would, but you really are better, dear, whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh and color, your appetite is better, I feel really much easier about you.

Related Characters: John (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, John speaks to his wife directly to reject her plea that they leave the house early, and he reassures her that she is, in fact, recovering under his care in this summer home. The reader has a privileged view of the narrator’s inner life, since she has been confiding her despair and paranoia in the diary, and hiding this rebellious act from John. Meanwhile, John is totally blind to the harmful effects of this illness, both because of his inability to communicate with his wife, and because he, as a purely rational male doctor who routinely rejects his wife’s complaints as fanciful or emotional, is completely self-assured, certain that his wife is well on her way to recovery. This is an ultimate example of the arrogance of the medical field as Charlotte Perkins Gilman herself experienced it; John presumes to know the narrator’s feeling and condition much better than she herself ever could. In the face of this blind—and condescending—assurance, the reader sympathizes with the narrator’s inability to make herself understood. John’s position is in some ways equally pitiful—it is society’s common perception of women as fragile, infantile beings that has led him to this absolute misunderstanding of his wife’s condition.

Sixth Entry Quotes

On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind… You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator’s fixation with the wallpaper’s mystifying pattern takes on new power. She personifies the pattern, assigning to it a string of violent actions that express the ways in which her struggle to interpret this wallpaper—really a struggle to understand her own illness and oppression—have left her broken and haunted. Although she still thinks of herself as a "normal mind," it is clear by this point that her environment has taken a serious toll on her mental health. This growing obsession with the wallpaper, which is "like a bad dream," signals a troubled mind, and her choice of imagery to describe the paper cast it as an assaulting force, something which she must confront in complete isolation, misunderstood by everyone around her and confined to this menacing chamber. 

At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper, The Mysterious Figure
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, as the narrator's mental conditions continues to worsen and she descends into her paranoid obsession with the wallpaper, there is a definite clue to the wallpaper's symbolic importance in the text—and to the reasons behind the narrator's mental illness. There is a mysterious figure trapped within the wallpaper—and a woman, nonetheless! The identity of this mysterious figure will not be resolved until the end of the tale, and even then it remains open to question. It may be a past inhabitant of this room, another mentally unstable and institutionally oppressed woman, or a reflection of the narrator herself, who is, after all, a woman imprisoned by the walls of her society and room. The explicit reference to bars is the clearest allusion to prison yet, and it's clear that the narrator does, in fact, feel as though she were stuck in prison, trapped in this room without an ally in the world aside from the diary in which she confides her secret depression and thoughts of rebellion against her husband and society. 

Eighth Entry Quotes

It used to disturb me at first. I thought seriously of burning the house—to reach the smell. But now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that it is like is the COLOR of the paper! A yellow smell.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator continues her obsessive description of the insidious wallpaper. The blending of senses here—sight and smell—seems to signal a further shift in the narrator's mental condition. The intensity of her inner turmoil is such that she has considered burning down the house, an offhand admission that gives the reader a frightening glimpse of just how far the narrator has slipped into her illness since the early entries, when her writing was measured and polite. The fact that the wallpaper has taken on a smell for the narrator now also suggests that its influence is completely inescapable—she cannot even close her eyes to evade its effects. The shift in her reaction to his invasion, from disturbance and distaste to acceptance, also suggests that she has ceased fighting against her dangerous fantasies, and has moved further still into her illness, continuing to distance herself from the reach of John or Jennie, entirely isolated in her struggle with the wallpaper. 

There is a very funny mark on this wall, low down, near the mopboard. A streak that runs round the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a long, straight, even SMOOCH, as if it had been rubbed over and over. I wonder how it was done and who did it, and what they did it for. Round and round and round—round and round and round—it makes me dizzy!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper, The Mysterious Figure
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote reveals another facet of the narrator's room, which suggests a sinister past while foreshadowing a dangerous future for the sick woman. The mysterious mark along the wall suggests an obsessive scratching at the wallpaper—something that the narrator herself might have done without being conscious of her action, or which the room's previous inhabitant, driven to a madness similar to the narrator's, may have created. In either case, the narrator is now misunderstanding something which the reader has reason to second guess, undermining her own reliability as a narrator. She does not, in fact, have perfect knowledge of the room's past—or even of her own present mental condition.

The motion suggested by the streak is an endless, circular pacing, the action of a caged animal, an idea that fits the mental state of the narrator in this moment. The repetition of "round and round and round" illustrates this mental state, as the narrator is sinking further into her obsession with the wallpaper, and has no means to escape the prison of forced idleness. Instead, she is forced to look at the same wallpaper, day after day, a boring task which has driven her to build out fantastical explanations for its odd patterns. 

Ninth Entry Quotes

And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper, The Mysterious Figure
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the mysterious figure returns to haunt the narrator. Instead of fear, however, there is now sympathy in the way that the narrator discusses the figure—like her, the mysterious figure is trapped by the strangling pattern of the wallpaper. In fact, the similarities between the mysterious figure trapped within the wallpaper and the narrator herself foreshadow the story's climax, when the narrator seemingly morphs into the mysterious figure herself.

The wallpaper has by now been transfigured into a malevolent, hydra-like creature in the narrator's mind (the hydra was a many-headed monster from Greek myth). Its strangling pattern, which entraps the mysterious figure and the narrator all at the same time, is a symbol of the many-headed monster of mental illness and societal oppression that has restricted the narrator's choices for so long, and led her down the path toward this dark, unhealthy obsession. The many heads, though, carry a sad as well as a scary connotation, since they also represent the many victims that have been strangled by this pattern. The narrator's situation is specific to her, but the illness from which she suffers, and the injustice that she faces as a woman, have affected countless others as well, who are now similarly frozen in the "wallpaper." 

Tenth Entry Quotes

I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can't do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, as her sickness and paranoia accelerate, the narrator reveals that she has been "creeping" in a motion similar to the mysterious figure in the wallpaper. She does this behind locked doors, further isolating herself from John and Jennie, whom she now completely mistrusts. This motion is further evidence that the long streak running along the wall, which she mentions in the eighth diary entry, may have been scratched out by the narrator herself in an unconscious state. She is taking on the characteristics of a caged animal, as that earlier quote suggests, and carefully hiding her activity from her husband John. This secrecy is a clear sign of something unhealthy, but it also makes sense, since John has already proven that he will be unsympathetic to the narrator's plight. Now, instead of reaching out to him, she has retreated entirely into herself and this dangerous delusion of the living wallpaper. John continues to be oblivious to this creeping illness and his wife's growing derangement, and we as the readers of this secret diary have a privileged view of her mental decay, but no power to affect it in any way. 

Eleventh Entry Quotes

I have found out another funny thing, but I shan't tell it this time! It does not do to trust people too much.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Diary
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator turns completely inward, rejecting even the previously comforting audience of her diary as untrustworthy. Her paranoia has mounted to the point that she is even suspicious of her own writing, which had been the only outlet for her inner turmoil. This "funny thing" that the narrator has found out creates a mystery for the reader, and a frightening one, given the narrator's deteriorating mental state—it seems likely that she will come to some harm without any means of escaping the downward spiral she has entered into. 

This secret half-confession underlines how completely the narrator has transformed over the course of her isolation in the room. She has learned to trust no one, and partly with good cause—since the person she ought to be able to trust most, her husband John, is a major cause of her current harmful state of imprisonment, essentially acting as her jailer. While in the beginning of the story the narrator seemed to make every effort to interpret John's actions kindly and to think the best of the people around her, she has now become so paranoid that everyone in her life is a potential enemy.

John knows I don't sleep very well at night, for all I'm so quiet!
He asked me all sorts of questions, too, and pretended to be very loving and kind. As if I couldn't see through him!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote the narrator reveals a shift in her attitude toward John, while also cluing the reader in to her insomnia—no doubt a contributing factor in her continuing mental deterioration. Instead of attributing love and kindness to John’s questioning, as she did at the beginning of the story, the narrator is now convinced that John is only pretending to care about her. In her paranoia, she sees their relationship as a sort of subtle battlefield, full of espionage and deception.

The image of the narrator’s sleepless, silent nights is a disturbing one, as she lays still in an attempt to convince John that she is actually sleeping. She is in a constant state of alert, watching out for John’s surveilling eye, as he checks in with her as both his patient and his wife. It is this sense of surveillance, this oppressive male gaze, that truly imprisons the narrator, and not merely the walls of her room upstairs. At the same time, the fact that John is finally asking her more questions suggests that he may at long last be noticing her accelerating illness, and so the reader’s privileged knowledge of this illness is intensely frustrating; we are unable to intervene in this relationship, and John has already ruined any chance of earning enough trust from his wife for her to reveal her increasingly alarming delusions to him.

Twelfth Entry Quotes

Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly and the pattern just enjoys it! All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote the narrator describes the beginning of her assault on the yellow wallpaper, demonstrating a further slide into madness. In her mind the inanimate wallpaper laughs mockingly at her desperate attempts to tear it down. The narrator tries to evade her illness's corrupting influence, but is only met with derision from the "strangled heads" of the wallpaper's previous victims. Fungus appears here as a symbol of madness and sickness, an unclean, infecting organism. 

This tearing of the wallpaper is further evidence that earlier clues in the narrator's diary entry (specifically, her observations that someone has been tearing the wallpaper) have a secret significance. At first, the narrator had interpreted these tears as a remnant of the schoolroom that may have occupied this chamber before her, but now it seems increasingly obvious that the room has imprisoned another woman (or several women) like her. The streaking scratch that circles the room is potentially another sign of these past inhabitants, but the possibility that the narrator herself created the tear without being aware of her actions remains possible as well. 

I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try.
Besides I wouldn't do it. Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote the narrator reveals an instinct toward self-harm or suicide that is wrapped in delusion. Her desperate need to escape this prison of a room is increasing, but escape seems impossible. By describing the act of jumping out the window as "admirable exercise," the narrator demonstrates just how restless and unhappy she has become. The bars on the windows are further evidence that the room has a dark past, and that the narrator's initial rosy description of her chamber might have left out some important details. As she has been throughout the story, the narrator is again utterly powerless to escape the restrictions placed upon her by her gender and illness, and as her frustration mounts her paranoia increases. 

The understatement of the second half of the quote, which admits that jumping out the window is a step that is "improper and might be misconstrued," emphasizes the extent to which the narrator's biggest struggle in this entire process has been an inability to make herself understood. Restrained by her gender and notions of propriety, the narrator has been pushed to the brink of suicide in her desperation to escape the literal and figurative confines of her situation. 

I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!
It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please! I don't want to go outside. I won't, even if Jennie asks me to.
For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow.
But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Jennie
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper, The Mysterious Figure
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator begins to identify herself as the mysterious figure behind the wallpaper, as the story reaches its climax and spills into horror. There are still remnants of the narrator's identity intact—she seems to know who Jennie is, for example, which suggests that this new personality is more than just the ghost of a past resident of the room—but she has been taken over by a second personality, that of the woman behind the wallpaper. This woman seems to be a figment of the narrator's madness, a creature whose only instinct is to "creep" around and around.

The narrator used the word "creep" to describe her own action earlier in the tale, again suggesting that this second personality has been present behind the scenes (or in the narrator's subconscious) for some time now—perhaps since the first time that the narrator saw the mysterious figure within the wallpaper's confusing patterns. Furthermore, the "smooch" along the wall that the narrator was puzzling over in an earlier diary entry is perhaps explained by this description of the groove in which her shoulder fits as she circles the room. It seems likely that the narrator has been unconsciously giving herself over to this "second personality" for some time now without being aware of its influence (or else she is just succumbing to a similar kind of madness as the room's previous inhabitant). The narrator's attitude and diction have also been transformed, suggesting a complete mental breakdown. Rather than any hope of escape or recovery, this new narrator's only ambition is to creep endlessly around the "pleasant" room, enjoying its yellow color and repeating her every action in an obsessive cycle. 

"I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!"
Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John, Jennie
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper, The Mysterious Figure
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator speaks to John directly, in the voice of the mysterious figure from the wallpaper. This is the first mention in the story of anyone named "Jane'"—some readers have suggested that this is a typo (or the narrator misspeaking), and the narrator is referring to Jennie, while others believe that Jane could be the name of the narrator herself, who is not otherwise named in the story. From her triumphant speech, it is clear that the narrator has slipped into madness primarily as a last resort attempt to escape the clutches of her husband and sister-in-law, who, along with society more generally, restricted her self-expression and identity. 

John faints here, in an interesting reversal of gender roles that has him taking on the more feminine, fragile action while the narrator triumphs over him. This suggests that the trauma of his wife's breakdown might have shaken his strict adherence to these traditional roles, which blinded him to the true severity of her condition. It also suggests that he, too, is a victim, in a sense, of society's gender expectations, and of the medical practice of the time. He is completely shocked by his wife's breakdown, since his principles as a doctor and a man led him to ignore her complaints early in the story, and to reject any attempt at communication that she made. And yet his actions were ultimately motivated by love for his wife, and it was misunderstanding on a structural as much as a personal level that brought about her descent into madness. 

The story ends with the frightening image of the narrator's persistent, creeping, circling motion, as she steps over the prone body of her husband again and again.