In "The Yellow Wallpaper," what is the signifcance of the woman behind the yellow wallpaper?

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Jessica Akcinar eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the unnamed woman narrating the short story is virtually a prisoner in a small yellow room with horrendous yellow wallpaper. She is staying at this small summer house with her husband, newborn baby, and sister in an attempt to get some rest and recouperate from her post-partum depression. She is not allowed to see her baby, read, write, or do anything that may strain her, so out of boredom, she resorts to studying the hideous yellow wallpaper.

After weeks of meticulous observation, she starts to see eyes peering our from the paper, staring at her. She believes that the paper knows her better than anyone else. Finally, she sees the form of a woman hiding in the pattern. The narrator notices that the pattern is double, bars in front and an intricate display behind. The woman is behind the bars and is shaking them, trying to get out. Full of empathy, the narrator locks herself in the room and desperately tries to get the woman out by ripping the paper.

Because the woman in the yellow paper is trapped and alone, she symbolizes the narrator in her incarceration. Both women are trying to escape their "jail" unsuccessfully. The woman in the wallpaper is behind bars, unable to be heard. The narrator's prison is both physical and intellectual, as her husband controls her actions and words. He undermines her in every way and trivializes her fears and desires.

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The Yellow Wallpaper

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