The Yellow Wallpaper

2. Is the wife a reliable narrator? What's with her and the woman in the paper? Do they have a real relationship?

yellow wall-paper

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From the start, the narrator has a constant bond with the woman in the wallpaper. Even when the narrator is unable to discern her figure beyond the pattern, she is still preoccupied with the wallpaper and feels an uncanny connection to it. As the story continues, the narrator’s connection to the woman in the wallpaper is heightened, and Gilman begins to present the wallpaper woman as a sort of doppelganger to the narrator. Although the woman is trapped behind the chaotic yellow wallpaper, she is essentially in the same position as the narrator: imprisoned in the domestic sphere and unable to escape without being strangled by the bars of social expectation.

By the end of the narrative, the narrator’s insanity has reached such a heightened state that she can no longer differentiate herself from the figure that she has seen in the wallpaper. She is the woman in the wallpaper and no one, not even John, can imprison her in the wallpaper again. There is no doubt that the narrator will be physically imprisoned at some point in the future. After John regains consciousness and discovers his wife still creeping around the nursery, he will have no choice but to send her to Weir Mitchell or place her in a mental institution. Yet, the narrator’s mind will still remain “free,” mirroring the freedom enjoyed by the woman in the wallpaper. In other words, the woman in the wallpaper can be seen as a manifestation of her creative imagination that finally breaks through the rigid expectations of the domestic sphere. Unfortunately, the escape of her imagination means that she cannot ever regain any sort of rationality; by freeing the woman in the wallpaper, the narrator ensures that her mind will be trapped in a prison of insanity.