The Yellow Wallpaper Ending

What happened at the end the story "The Yellow Wallpaper"? What happened to John? Are the narrator and Charlotte Perkins Gilman the same?

At the end of "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator breaks with reality, realizing that she is the trapped woman she believes she has seen in the wallpaper in her room. When her husband enters the room, he is so shocked by the transformation in her appearance that he faints. This narrator shares many similarities with Gilman's own experiences, but this is not an autobiographical work. Therefore, it is important to separate the fictional narrator from the author herself.

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The narrator is in conflict with her husband from the moment this story opens. Although he means well, John often views his wife as a patient who must be treated and cured and fails to consider her own voice in that course of treatment. Therefore, the narrator is forbidden to write, although she feels it will help her; she longs for "less opposition and more society and stimulus," but John locks her away in a room upstairs. She isn't even allowed a voice in the room she is confined to. When she asks to change her location, John calls her his "blessed little goose" and ignores her request. In all circumstances, John is convinced that he knows how to take care of his wife better than she knows how to take care of herself.

The narrator's voice is ignored and silenced as her condition continues to deteriorate. She begins to recognize herself in the woman who she believes is trapped in the wallpaper of her room. The "pattern" of domesticity and the roles women are confined to force the narrator to tear herself free of the oppressive influence of those around her. In doing so, she becomes a horrific version of her former self, and when John enters, he is shocked by her appearance. His wife's transformation is so unnerving that he faints, and the narrator is forced to "creep over him" as she paces around the room.

The narrator of this short story is fictional woman, although the author has used some of her own life experiences to shape this character and the conflict she faces. Dr. Weir Mitchell, who developed the "rest-care" method to treat women with hysteria and "nervous conditions," treated Gilman for what we would now likely recognize as a form of post-partum depression. Like the narrator, Gilman was forbidden from engaging in any writing during this period, though this was her passion and her creative outlet. Gilman explained that this treatment nearly drove her to madness. In her later years, she dedicated herself to social reform, believing that living a completely domestic life oppressed women. This theme is evident in her characterization of the narrator.

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At the end of this short story several things have occured. The "woman in the wallpaper" has escaped, as the narrator has ripped her free. The narrator then proceeds to crawl around the edge of the room against the wall, John breaks into the room and passes out from the sight of his wife, and then the narrator continues to crawl around the wall over John when she reaches him each time. Many people have compared the narrator to Gilman herself. Many things support this claim. There are her personal asylum writings, the fact that they both suffered from postnatal peruperal psychosis (post-partum depression), and that they both had husbands who surpressed what was really happening in their bodies. It might also be worth noting that Gilman divorced her husband to live single for many years and persue her writing. While married (and this mirrors the short story as well in the narrator and her husband) she was not allowed to write, under doctor's orders, since they thought that intellectual stimulation was furthering the illnesses. However, given the time period for both the story and Gilman's life, it cannot be seen as an anti-feminist action on the parts of the husbands. Science was not yet advanced enough to recognize the causes of post-partum depression. Everything has to be seen by the point of view of the time.

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Yes, the narrator creeps over John, who passes out, but the ending can also be understood on a figurative level. It is clear, through reading the narrators entries, that she is suffering from a psychological imprisonment that is brought about by her husband's dominance--not a physical condition. The literal reading of the story depicts a woman slowly losing her mind. What makes it more painful to watch, however, is to see that no one is willing to admit the real cause of the narrator's downward spiral. It's caused by the degrading treatment of woman in the 19th century. John's wife is a pretty fixture, a doll, and no one takes her seriously. What happens to the narrator at the end of the story? She breaks out of the figurative cage that is the degrading treatment of women in 19th century America.

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At the end of the story, the narrator creeps around the baseboards of the floor in the room where she has been confined.  Her husband, John, walks in and promptly passes out, so she remarks that she simply crept right over him as she went around the room.  It is a very eerie ending! 

The narrator and Gilman has very similar experiences, but we cannot assume tha the narrator and the author are one-in-the-same.  Sometimes the narrator closely resembles the author and sometimes not.  In this case, Gilman did, in fact, get treatment for mental illness that was simliar to the narrator's treatment, so this story is based on many truths.


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