Critics interpret the conclusion of "The Yellow Wallpaper" differently. Some argue that the narrator's creeping over the body of her prostrate husband is a sign of defiance and an act that overcomes John's power, whereas others dislike the scene aesthetically and prefer to focus on the narrator's text as a kind of triumph. Which interpretation is more defensible?
In the end, Gilman's narrator finally submits to the seduction of insanity, symbolically represented by the yellow color (the color of evil in literature) of the wallpaper that the narrator describes as having "a yellow smell"--evil has been described as a smell--and the women behind the "bars" of the hideous paper who try to get out.
Certainly, the narrator's crawling over her husband is a sign of defiance since she has previously mentioned that he has forbidden her to speak of her mental instability. For, after her having complained of the horrible pattern of the wallpaper and her husband's refusal to change it or move her to another room, the narrator tells her husband one day that she "really was not gaining here, and ...wished he would take [her] away." John, however, refuses because the repairs on the house are not finished. Further, he forbids her to speak of her mental instability:
"My darling," said he, "I beg of you, for my sake and for our child's sake,as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter you mind!...It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?"
This cruel repression by John causes the narrator to focus even more intently upon the oppressive paper since she is prevented from leaving the room.
I...lay there for hours trying to decide whether that fron pattern and the back pattern really did move together or separately.
Finding the lack of symmetry a constant irritant, a torture, to her artistic mind and sense of aesthetics, the narrator finally acts, her mind seduced by an act of insanity that is committed in order to relieve her obsession with the thoughts of entrapment. Truly, the narrator's act of tearing the paper to free the woman, who is now herself, and creep along the wall, thinking "so I cannot lose my way," is a defiant act as well as one to declare her independence from her repressive husband. But, it is no triumph since she is delusional.