Study Guide

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper Summary

We have some good news and we have some bad news when it comes to the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper."

The good news? The narrator, along with her husband John, are renting a beautiful, secluded estate for the summer.

The bad news? Pretty much every other aspect of this story.

The narrator suffers from what her husband believes is a "temporary nervous depression." He orders her to rest as much as possible, and picks a room in the house for the two of them. The narrator feels vaguely uncomfortable with the estate, but obeys her husband’s decision for the two of them to stay there. She also obeys him when he chooses a large, airy room on the top floor instead of the smaller, prettier room on the ground floor that she prefers.

Let's just go ahead and say that she pretty much obeys her husband when it comes to everything.

Since the hubby is a doctor, he wins all their arguments. The narrator would like to spend her time writing, but her husband, brother, and assorted other family members think this is a terrible idea: she's on a rest cure, which means resting instead of doing pretty much anything else. She basically just has to lie around and...rest. Most likely, if this story was set today, she wouldn't even be allowed to binge Netflix.

So a quick recap: The narrator is living in a house in which she feels uncomfortable, in a room she hasn’t picked out, and she's forbidden from engaging in the one activity she enjoys. No wonder she becomes absolutely obsessed with the yellow wallpaper in her room—she's bored out of her mind.

Literally, as it turns out.

She begins fanatically tracing the pattern of the wallpaper and soon becomes convinced that there's a woman trapped within the paper. Shortly before the narrator is due to depart the house, she decides that she has to free the trapped woman by stripping the wallpaper off. When her husband comes into the room, the narrator declares that she is now free.

Upon seeing his wife creeping around the room peeling the paper off the walls, John faints. The narrator pays no attention to the unconscious hubby, and continues creeping around the room.

  • Part 1

    • The narrator and her husband John move into an old ancestral hall for the summer.
    • She immediately feels that there is something wrong with the place, but John scoffs at her fears, which seems to be a recurring theme in their marriage. John uses the old, "trust me, I’m a doctor" line to convince his wife and all their relatives that the narrator needs to rest in order to get rid of her slight depression.
    • The narrator thinks that writing and hanging out with friends would be a better cure, but Mr. "Trust Me, I’m a Doctor" wins the day. The narrator occasionally sneaks around and writes, but it’s hard when her husband and family oppose it.
    • The narrator transitions to describing the estate as one of those "English places that you read about."
    • The narrator continues feeling spooked out by the place, and John again dismisses her fears. She wants to sleep in a different, prettier room, but her husband disagrees. He recommends a large room at the top of the house that used to be a nursery.
    • John controls her daily schedule and prescribes lots and lots of rest. The narrator hates the wallpaper in the room, which is stripped off in various places.
    • Even though she hates the wallpaper, the narrator is also strangely fascinated by it.
    • She tells us that John is approaching and that she must hide the paper she is writing on.
  • Part 2

    • Two weeks have passed.
    • The narrator is too weak to do much writing. She complains of suffering and guilt-trips herself for being unable to fulfill her duties.
    • A woman named Mary is taking care of the narrator’s baby. The narrator says she is nervous around her own son.
    • John almost gives in and repapers the room, but decides the narrator would then demand all sorts of other changes.
    • The narrator says she is becoming fonder of the room, except for the horrible wallpaper.
    • She gives us an overview of the view from her window.
    • The narrator wishes she could spend time as a writer, but resolves not to think about it.
    • She opts for describing the wallpaper instead. According to her, it is full of "absurd, unblinking eyes."
    • All the furniture in the room is also beat up, which doesn’t particularly bother the narrator.
    • She hears Jennie, John’s sister, on the stairs, who we learn is a perfect housekeeper, and the narrator is afraid to be caught writing.
    • The narrator notes that the wallpaper has a sub-pattern to it, behind which she can see "a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure."
    • She hears John’s sister on the stairs.
  • Part 3

    • The Fourth of July has passed. The narrator has had some company, but now she is tired.
    • John threatens to send her to Weir Mitchell if she doesn’t get better, but she doesn’t want that—she’s had friends treated by the man and apparently he’s just like John.
    • Her mind grows more chaotic as she begins randomly crying.
    • She stays alone in her room or walks in the garden.
    • She grows more obsessed with the wallpaper and is determined to find a purpose to the pattern.
    • It tires her out and she decides to take a nap.
  • Part 4

    • The narrator continues to lose her willpower and strength. She tries to talk reasonably to her husband about visiting her relatives, but breaks down and starts crying during the conversation.
    • John tells her she must take care of herself for his sake.
    • The narrator continues to watch the wallpaper. Within the pattern, the shape of a woman creeping is becoming clearer.
    • The narrator wishes she could leave.
  • Part 5

    • The narrator watches the wallpaper in the moonlight and can see the woman trying to break free of the paper.
    • She gets out of bed to look more closely. Her husband wakes up and calls her back to bed. She asks to leave the estate and he tells her that they cannot leave.
    • He then assures her that she’s getting better, using the "trust me, I’m a doctor" rationale.
    • He goes back to sleep and the narrator stays up watching the pattern.
  • Part 6

    • The narrator continues to describe the pattern, calling it a bad dream.
    • By moonlight the pattern looks different to the narrator.
    • The narrator is now convinced that, trapped in the wallpaper, there is a woman, who remains very still during the day.
    • The narrator spends all her time in bed, and she begins to fear both John and his sister Jennie. She is convinced they are somehow also connected to the paper.
    • Convinced that Jennie has also begun studying the wallpaper, the narrator is determined to uncover its secret herself.
  • Part 7

    • Life becomes more exciting for the narrator as she grows more obsessed with the wallpaper.
    • She keeps her obsession to herself. She doesn’t want John to find out.
    • We learn the narrator will be in the house for only one more week.
  • Part 8

    • The narrator feels better. She is now sleeping during the day and lies awake at night watching the wallpaper.
    • She says there are always interesting developments. Now the wallpaper smells.
    • She describes it as the color of the wallpaper, a "yellow smell."
    • She notes a funny streak that runs the length of the room.
  • Part 9

    • The narrator believes she has made a breakthrough. She believes the front pattern of the wallpaper moves because the woman trapped behind it is shaking it.
    • The narrator thinks the woman is trying to escape, but the pattern of the wallpaper is strangling her. This, thinks the narrator, explains all the heads and the bulging eyes.
  • Part 10

    • The narrator is convinced that the woman escapes during the daytime.
    • The narrator says she sees the woman creeping along the road, and that most women don’t creep by daylight.
    • We find out that the narrator has been creeping by daylight—she just locks the door. She knows her husband would catch her if she were to creep around at night.
    • The narrator continues to watch the other woman creep.
  • Part 11

    • The narrator has two days left. She’s trying to remove the top pattern of the wallpaper.
    • She is convinced John and Jennie are conspiring against her.
    • She is convinced John and Jennie have been affected by the wallpaper.
  • Part 12

    • It’s the last day in the house.
    • John stays in town overnight with a patient, and Jennie offers to keep the narrator company, but she declines.
    • As soon as night falls, the narrator goes to the wallpaper to help the woman trapped inside.
    • The narrator and the trapped woman peel away yards of the wallpaper.
    • The sun rises and the narrator believes the pattern is laughing at her.
    • She is due to leave tomorrow with John.
    • Jennie comes into the room and is astounded to see much of the wallpaper gone.
    • The narrator says she will sleep the rest of the day and requests that no one disturb her.
    • After Jennie leaves, the narrator locks the door, throws the key down the stairs, and gets to work. The narrator prepares a rope to capture the woman in the wallpaper once she gets out.
    • The narrator then tries to move the bed so she can stand on it to strip the wallpaper.
    • The bed doesn’t move. The narrator gets so enraged that she bites it.
    • She gets angry enough that she contemplates jumping out the window, only to find that the windows are barred.
    • The narrator is happy that she can now creep around the room as she wishes.
    • John tries to get in the room.
    • He pounds on the door and the narrator finally tells him that the key is on the front path.
    • He comes in and is shocked to see his wife creeping about.
    • The narrator tells John that she (the narrator) has finally escaped and that he cannot put her back.
    • John faints as the narrator continues to creep around the room.