Throughout Charlotte Perkins Gilman "The Yellow Wallpaper" the reader comes to understand that much of the failure of the treatment of the unnamed narrator's "nervous condition" is due to the Victorian society in which she is held captive by the common law doctrine of femme covert [French for covered, (hidden) woman/wife]. Under this law the husband had virtually total control of his wife's life. Thus, in every aspect of her marriage, the wife was repressed in this patriarchal society. Added to this, was the prevailing wisdom of Dr. Weir Mitchell who contended that "post-partum depression" was a myth, and the real condition was only nerves. For this condition, Mitchell believed in total rest without any mental of physical activity. And, the narrator's husband John concurs completely with this diagnosis.
So, whenever the narrator pleas with him to allow her to go into the garden, or to have a window open, John refuses. Compounding this problem, the narrator, made submissive by her repressed social condition, begins to criticize herself,
I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I'm sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.
But John says if I feel so shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself--before him, at least, and that makes me tired.
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-fashioned chintz hangings! But John would not hear of it.
With her husband's domination, the deprivation of anything aesthetic and pleasing, as well as the loss of socialization, the narrator focuses upon "the hideous wallpaper. Aesthetically repulsed by the lack of symmetry--"I never saw a worse paper in my life--and the "lurid orange and sickly sulphur tint" of its color, the narrator begins to obsess on this wall covering from which she can find no relief. Her concerns then turn inward and she feels that she is "a comparative burden already" to her husband.
Gradually, however, the narrator, a creative, intelligent woman whose talents are depreciated by her repressive husband and who is denied "stimulating people" whom she needs, focuses so intently upon the wallpaper that she imagines exerts "a vicious influence" upon her. This, then, causes her to feel a sense of antagonism, "impertinence" in the paper with its "unblinking eyes" that are ubiquitous. From this vision then emanates a "strange, provoking, formless sort of figure" that seeks to be freed from the horizontal bars of the yellow wallpaper. The narrator initially fears this woman, who is really her emerging sense of self. In her submissiveness, she wishes "John would take me away from here!"
When she voices her anxiety to her husband, he tells her not to think about it. More and more she feels trapped until she must free this woman she is behind the bars of the paper. However, instead of freeing her, the narrator's sense of self enters the wallpaper and is irrevocably trapped. When her husband knocks, she ignores him, for she is no longer outside the insanity of the paper. When he breaks down the door, John finds his wife crawling along the baseboard, mentally lost. As she creeps along the baseboard, he perceives her insanity for which he is responsible and faints. Of course, she does not understand why, and simply continues "to creep over him every time!"