“The Yellow Wallpaper” is about a woman, the author of the story, who has just had a child, and after a nervous breakdown is taken by her husband John, a doctor, to a secluded estate to recover. She initially sees this as his way of caring, and follows his instructions, and those of his sister, Jennie, who came to help take care of the child and her. The room that she and John stay in is a former nursery that has patterned yellow wallpaper and abused furniture. The author is given tonics and occasionally writes, against John’s orders, about the room and the yellow wallpaper. Within the pattern she sees eyes, and after awhile, a woman “moving” behind it. Later, she sees this woman outside, and says that is the secret of the wallpaper. At the end of the story, she locks herself in the room, and tries to tear the wallpaper off, to free the women, and then “climbs” into it instead, telling John he can’t get her now.
This is the closest Charlotte has to an autobiographic story. The initial trials of the author match that of her own, when she was married and had a child. She went through depression, and would have fits and nervous breakdowns. The main themes of the story are women’s isolation from society and man’s power over them. At this time it was still legal for a man to beat his wife. And women were unable to do all the things men were, so they had few friends who they could go to for support. The author shows the role of women in society, and John shows how dominant men are over them. John, being a doctor, takes control of the author’s recovery, refusing to listen to her. This portrays the reaction of men to women voicing their opinions and thoughts in society. The sister of John shows how they thought women should be: submissive and caring for children. The wallpaper itself has a meaning. It shows how society traps women, as the pattern of the wallpaper had trapped the woman behind it, and when she was out, it was seen as shame. Women were trapped in their positions in the house, and women working outside the house were not viewed as positive. These were most often unmarried women, and after marriage would leave these jobs.