The narrator and John have just had relatives over for the 4th of July. Even though Jennie took care of everything, the narrator is still tired and does not know why her health is still failing. John has warned her he may send her to the physician Weir Mitchell in the fall if she does not get better. The narrator is terrified of the prospect of being sent to Weir Mitchell because she has heard that he is the same as John, only more so.
The narrator finds she is anxious, argumentative, and cries easily when alone. John is rarely present, and she begins to feel overwhelmed with her nervousness. She writes only to relieve her thoughts, but the effort is too great even for that. Though she still believes that the key to her recovery lies in writing, she worries that the key to her cure is now beyond her reach.
The narrator attempts to convince John to let her visit Cousin Henry and Julia, but her tears undermine her argument. John carries her back into the nursery and reads to her until she calms down. He then encourages her to use her will power to get better. The narrator’s only comfort is that the baby has been well and has not been forced to use the nursery. She is content to know that her presence in the nursery ensures that her baby will not have to suffer the same fate.
With each passing day, the wallpaper proves to be increasingly stimulating. She spends hours studying the confusing, chaotic patterns and even admits that she is beginning to grow rather fond of the wallpaper. Whenever John dismisses her concerns or leaves the house, she immediately finds comfort in the swirling shapes of the yellow wallpaper.
In one sunlit section of the room, she is beginning to make out a more ordered sub-pattern beneath the outer layer, similar to the bars of a cage. The hazy shape beneath the pattern also begins to solidify, and she can now identify it as a woman who is “stooping down and creeping” behind the main pattern.
The meaning of the wallpaper is, as the narrator says, growing clearer each day. Beneath the confusing patterns, which closely mirror the narrator’s chaotic mind, she image of a woman in a somewhat subservient pose ("stooping down and creeping around"). The figure’s position corresponds to the narrator’s inferior position in her marriage and in the society.
The bars that appear in the wallpaper continue to emphasize this connection between the narrator and the hazy feminine figure in trapped behind the pattern. Early in the story, the narrator notes the bars on the windows of the nursery, presumably to protect the children from falling out of the windows. Yet, the woman behind the wallpaper is imprisoned behind bars as well, revealing that the narrator is also supposed to be imprisoned in the same way. Perhaps the bars did not even belong to the nursery but were installed in preparation for the narrator’s visit.
Significantly, the narrator’s perspective toward the wallpaper also begins to change. She is obsessed with the swirling pattern in the wallpaper and even finds comfort in its irrationality when she is sad or lonely. She says: "There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me." Calling it "paper" rather than "wallpaper" suggests that the wallpaper functions similarly to the paper on which she has been secretly writing. The wallpaper is becoming a kind of literary text in which she can discover deep meaning under the surface and develop her own creativity.
Throughout this section, John's paternalism grows. He treats her more like his infant, calling her "his darling and his comfort," as if her identity exists only through him. The narrator also believes "I must take care of myself for his sake," a statement loaded with irony. The irony of John's control over her again resurfaces when he tells her she must use her "will and self-control" to get better when, in fact, he has been controlling her all along.
The narrator’s desire to visit her Cousin Henry and Julia is undermined by John’s control over her. Although she attempts to outline a clear argument for the visit, John’s inability to comprehend her feelings results in a complete emotional breakdown. Because John does not allow the narrator to assume the role of a mature individual in charge of her own life, she is doomed to failure every time she attempts to make a point against him.
Gilman also takes the opportunity to make a boldly insulting reference to S. Weir Mitchell in this section. As the doctor who prescribed Gilman with a similar "rest cure" in 1887, Weir Mitchell is automatically presented as the underlying villain of the story, a physician who is “just like John and my brother, only more so!” The narrator fears Weir Mitchell to such an extent that she would rather stay in the nursery and attempt to cure herself with the wallpaper than see him. John’s use of a threat as a way to force the narrator into recovery is also significant, demonstrating his lack of respect for the narrator.