Throughout Gilman's short story, there is every indication of the oppressiveness of a patriarchal system influencing the life of the unnamed narrator. She bemoans,
I don't like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window, and such pretty old-fashioed chintz hangings! But John would not hear of it.
He said there was only one window and not room for two beds, and no near room for him if he took another.
Despite her wishes, John, the husband, takes a former nursery as the bedroom; it has bars on the windows rather than roses, with "rings and things" in the walls. Worse, there is "One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin."
The wallpaper is especially repugnant to the narrator who loves the aesthetic. It is dull, the pattern is unsymmetrical, the color is "repellant, almost revolting" as it is a dirty yellow, faded by sunlight. The narrator notices that it is a "lurid orange" in some areas, "a sickly sulphur tint in others." Completely repulsed by this paper, the narrator asks John to replace it, but he refuses, replying that "nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies." Further, he patronizes his wife by taking her in his arms and calling her a "blessed little goose," [connoting foolish], saying he will have the basement whitewashed if that is what she wants.
Hopelessly, this creative, intelligent woman looks longingly out of one window where she can see the garden with its
mysterious deep-shaded arbors, the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees.
Out of another window she can see a "lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf...." But, inside she is confronted by a wallpaper that affronts her sensitive, artistic nature. It is truly insensitive of the narrator's husband to insist that she remain in a room so hideous to her. In fact, this insistence that the narrator remain where everything is an insult to her artistic nature is what effects the narrator's complete breakdown.