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“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a short story about a woman dealing with a mental breakdown. As the story opens, we meet the unnamed narrator and learn that she and her husband John (along with their baby and John’s sister) are living in a beautiful summer home that they have rented. John refers to the narrator as “sick” but believes she will recover from this “temporary” condition; to aid her recovery he refuses to let her see the baby or do any work. Because he is a doctor, all the relatives accept his interpretation of events and allow him to control the narrator. He even forbids her to write, but she continues to work on her writing in secret, believing that it will help her. However, the secrecy exhausts her. With nothing else to do, she begins to trace the design in the ugly, peeling wallpaper.
Her husband continues to control her, insisting that she take a “rest cure” with Dr. Weir. He refuses to give in to what he considers to be her “fancies” about the wallpaper. With nothing to do (such as work or writing), and no control over her surroundings—even the choice of room—the narrator continues to obsess about the wallpaper, first seeing eyes in it that are looking at her and eventually seeing a figure in the wallpaper that she believes she must “free.”
Near the end of the story, the narrator pretends that her health has improved and that her spirits have improved—anything to get away from the house and avoid Dr. Weir’s “rest cure.” She notices that the woman in the wallpaper is quiet during the day and more active at night, as is the narrator, and she worries that John and Jennie (her sister-in-law) will figure out the pattern in the wallpaper before she does. Eventually, she locks herself inside the room and throws the key out the window. She finds herself trapped, having become the woman she sees in the wallpaper. John breaks down the door and enters to hear her state that she has “freed” the woman. However, John faints as he sees his wife creeping around the room peeling off the wallpaper. The story ends as the narrator continues to creep around the room.
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