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.