Upon reading “The Yellow Wallpaper” I found myself confused, and even a little disturbed. This is understandable; the narrator’s descent into insanity is unnerving to say the least. However, upon reading Gilman’s work again I found a deeper meaning within the narrator’s hallucinations in the wallpaper and I could not help but share it. The wallpaper is maddening to the narrator, as she becomes more and more engrossed in it’s pattern the more she begins to see the oppression she faces in her life. As the full weight of her situation comes down on her, her sanity crumbles.
The narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is very imaginative finding “entertainment and terror in blank walls”(29) as a child. Because of her mental illness, she was advised not to exercise her imagination, this greatly damages her mind as her ideas are left to run wild. These ideas manifest themselves in the wallpaper of her room. It becomes a captor to her, Gilman allows the paper to represent the mental prison she has created due to her lack of self expression. The “absurd, unblinking eyes” (29) seem to watch her every move, making sure she does not allow herself to think or step outside her given role as as a weak and unstable women incapable of positive ideas. As she loses all connection to the outside world, the narrator begins to see her life in the wallpaper itself. “The woman stooping down and creeping behind that wallpaper”(32-33) is herself, trapped behind the constraints of her illness, her husbands oppressive and infantilizing care, and her own well intentioned attempts to stifle her own mind. As the narrator loses touch with her sanity she sees the wall paper as two separate patterns; the bars that form the outside pattern and “the woman behind it… as plain as can be”(34).
The narrator sinks deeper and deeper into insanity after discovering the lady in the paper; once she has seen herself and the gravity of her situation she cannot go back. She becomes more and more engrossed in the wallpaper and the woman who creeps behind it, she begins to find a sort of comfort in the woman’s presence; before her breakdown the narrator believes her condition’s improvement is “because of the wallpaper,”(35) and she finds herself unable “to leave… until [she] has found it out”(35). The wallpaper provides her with a new perspective in her life; that perhaps her husband is not so caring and his treatment for her not so effective. In her suppressed subconscious mind the narrator knows this is true; these thoughts manifest themselves in the yellow wallpaper that surrounds her.
At the end of “The Yellow Wallpaper” the narrator is driven to insanity because of her husband’s oppressive nature and her own attempts to suppress her inner self and imagination. In this sense, the narrator herself has become one of her own jailers; she has driven herself to madness by allowing herself to be overcome by the hallucinations she sees in the paper. The narrator is able to free herself from her own ignorance towards her situation, however this comes at the cost of her sanity. When “‘[She’s] got out at last,’… ‘And [she has] pulled off most of the paper, so [they] can’t put [her] back!’”(42) Gilman illustrates the the narrator as the lady in the paper. By saying that they “cannot put her back”(42) the narrator implies that she was the one trapped in the yellow wallpaper all along. Gilman uses this moment as an indication to the reader; there are no longer any differences between the lady creeping behind the paper and our narrator. The narrator sees the truth and she breaks free from the prison of her own mind, just as the woman in the wallpaper breaks out from behind the bars holding her back. However, in order for her to escape the horrible reality she has revealed, she loses her mind. This is the irony of the wallpaper; it sets the narrator free by forcing her to face her thoughts, but it takes her sanity in the process. Gilman conveys this complex reality in “The Yellow Wallpaper” to the reader through the parallels between the lady in the paper and the narrator.