Symbolically, the woman behind the yellow wallpaper is Mary's inner woman, the powerful woman who is independent and strong and resists being penned in. Mary looks at the wallpaper and is scared by the movement behind it, as many women in Gilman's time where scared by the prospect of achieving equal right, but she is fascinated by the idea as well. While many critics do attribute her sickness to post-partum depression, others maintain that it is only a manifestation of being trapped by society. Her "madness" is her dual nature - an independent and thoughtful woman trapped by a dutiful and caring wife. Gilman was making a statement that trying to be both could cause create internal conflict for women.
Mental illness and depression was not widely understood during this period of time and treatment for these unfortunate individuals bordered on barbaric. Mary, the main character, suffers from post-partum depression. Prior to her illness, she was an active writer, but this activity is forbidden when Mary is forced to endure the "rest cure". " Her husband, John, who is a doctor, misidentifies her condition and prescribes a “rest cure” made popular by the well-respected physician Weir Mitchell. The rest cure assumes that intellectual stimulation damages a woman physically and psychologically, so John requires the narrator to stop all writing, all reading, and essentially, all higher-level thinking" (e-notes).Mary secretly begins writing her story, documenting the tragic and horrible side effects of the "rest cure". Unfortunately, Mary's post partum depression coupled with her lack of mental stimulation and compassion she begins a downward spiral into madness.The author's (Charlotte Perkins)feminist point-of-view can be seen in her philosophies, "the oppression of women is ultimately based on women’s economic dependence on men. Other institutions—religion, education, ethics, marriage and family—simply reinforce this relationship" (e-notes). Some of her view points (I let you ferret these out.) would be considered inflamatory today.