This is the last day of their time in the house, and the narrator arranges to be alone in the room overnight. As soon as the moon appears, she begins her attempt to free the mysterious figure, peeling yards of the wallpaper away in a strip around the room. When Jennie sees it the next morning, the narrator tells her ‘merrily’ that she did it out of pure spite, and Jennie laughs and warns her not to get tired.
The suspense mounts as the narrator’s imminent breakdown approaches inescapably. John and Jennie still have not grasped the seriousness of her fixation on the wallpaper, and even when she discovers the narrator halfway through her mission, Jennie laughingly assumes it is a simple hatred of the pattern.
The narrator is obsessed, driven to finish the task of removing the wallpaper. She refuses to leave the room, even as everything but the gnawed bedstead is being moved out of it, and when she is alone again she locks the door, throws the key onto the front path, and gets to work removing the paper.
The bedstead, which we now learn has been gnawed, contributes to a growing sense of this room’s sinister past. As she isolates herself from those people that might help her, the danger of self-harm grows, and so does the suspense.
The narrator cannot reach the tops of the walls, and after trying in vain to move the heavy bedstead so that she can reach, she bites at one corner in frustration. She tears off whatever she can reach, and the wallpaper seems to shriek with laughter at her attempts. She writes that she is angry enough to jump out the window, but the bars are too strong- and besides, ‘a step like that is improper and would be misconstrued.’
Trust in the narrator’s reliability erodes further, since a new possibility- that the narrator has been rubbing against the wall and gnawing the bedstead before this point- emerges. The other possibility, that this room has been inhabited by a woman who went mad in nearly the same way, strengthens the sense that this ‘illness’ is an affliction common to all women, who are trapped by the constraints of society. Her idea of suicide is scarily casual, and the understatement she uses to dismiss it - that it might be ‘improper or misconstrued’- is an indictment of the way that society’s notion of ‘propriety’ has brought her to this point.
Here, the perspective shifts. The narrator begins to speak as though she were the mysterious woman behind the wallpaper, just escaped. She can creep around in the room as much as she pleases, and doesn’t want to go back inside the wallpaper or outside in the garden. She can creep along the wall on the floor, so that her shoulder fits smoothly into the long ‘smooch’ on the wall.
As the narrator descends completely into a mental breakdown, she now identifies completely with the mysterious woman, seeing herself as that woman. The rest cure—enforced on her by her society and husband—has in fact driven her to this breakdown, which appeared in the author’s real life experience as well.
John arrives at the door, calling for an axe to break it down. The narrator tells him that the key is outside under a plantain leaf, repeating it over and over until he opens the door. When he enters, she says that she has ‘got out at last’ in spite of him ‘and Jane,’ and will not be put back. He faints at the sight of her creeping along the wall, and she continues to creep in a circle around the room, forced to go over his prone body with each turn.
Until now, John was blind to the inner life of his wife, both because it was hidden in her diary but also because his society and education as a doctor has taught him to dismiss such things. Now, though, as his wife’s mental breakdown is complete, and her inner life has taken over her outer appearance, he is forced to confront it directly. That he faints marks a departure from his traditional “male role” of strength and self-control—it is an overwhelming emotional reaction, and suggests perhaps that he too has been constrained by his social role in a way that actually weakens him. Some critics think that the mention of ‘Jane’ is just a misprint of ‘Jennie’, but others argue that it suggests that the narrator is herself is named Jane and that she has become so dissociated from her sane self to the point that she here refers to herself in the third person, having “become” the ‘woman in the wall.’