One night, the narrator decides that she should talk about her case with John. She hopes to convince him to let them leave the nursery; despite her preoccupation with the wallpaper, she still feels something ominous about it. Yet, the narrator feels insecure talking about her case because she does not want him to think that she doubts him or loves him any less.
Rather than wake him, the narrator gets out of bed to look at the female figure in the wall. When she comes back, John is awake. She asks him if they can leave, but he says their lease is up in three weeks and their house is still being remodeled; besides, she looks like she is getting better. She responds with "Better in body perhaps," but John interrupts and urges her not to think about such things. He goes to sleep, but the narrator stays up for hours staring at the wallpaper.
The wallpaper's pattern continues to absorb the narrator. She is appalled at the irritating pattern and still cannot understand how the pattern can be so torturous. She notices that when the first ray of sunlight shoots through the east window, the pattern changes quickly. By moonlight, the pattern looks completely different. The pattern becomes bars, and the figure of a woman becomes very clear.
As the days pass, John makes the narrator lie down more often for her health. The narrator pretends to follow his orders, but she is unable to sleep and simply follows the pattern of the wallpaper with her eyes. However, she does not want to tell John that she stays awake, and she feels that this is cultivating deceit in their relationship.
The narrator notices that John and Jennie are beginning to act strangely; she is even beginning to be a little afraid of John. Her only explanation for this change in behavior is that they are also interested in the wallpaper. The narrator catches Jennie touching the wallpaper under the excuse that the paper stains clothing. The narrator resolves that no one shall figure out the pattern but her.
Gilman continues to develop the motif of sunlight and moonlight as the meaning of wallpaper becomes clearer. By moonlight, the narrator gains the strength to ask John to let her leave the house. Although her plea is unsuccessful, she does not burst into tears as she had during her previous attempt. John ends the discussion by asking the narrator if she trusts him. Significantly, the narrator does not respond and simply pretends to fall asleep.
The pattern of the wallpaper also emerges most clearly by the light of the moon. The narrator is able to identify the figure as a woman behind bars, an image that symbolizes the oppression of female domestication. Because wallpaper is stereotypically a floral, feminine fixture in rooms, the figure’s imprisonment behind the wallpaper highlights the expectations for women of the late 19th-century. Unlike men, women of the time were expected only to tend to the housework and the family - and rarely to leave freely for work as John does. The fact that the oppressive wallpaper is on the walls of the nursery is yet another symbol of the maternal duties that the female figure is expected to assume.
However, the narrator only grows subconsciously aware of this oppression at night, when the subconscious is allowed to roam. In the daytime, the figure in the wallpaper is just as repressed as she is: "By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still."
John continues his condescending, infantilizing behavior toward his "little girl.” He asserts that his authority as a physician should be enough to convince her that she is improving; if he says so, it must be true. His refusal to discuss her intimations that she is mentally ill portends disaster.
Yet, the narrator alludes to the possibility that John actually does notice her transformation. She ascribes his strange behavior to an interest in the wallpaper, but it is more likely that John is noticing the narrator’s slow loss of rationality. With that in mind, John’s indulgent behavior may simply be an attempt to calm the narrator and avoid any major conflicts. His reference to a “little trip of a few days” is particularly pertinent. It is impossible to know if John is actually planning a short trip for the couple or if he is preparing the narrator for a visit with S. Weir Mitchell.
The narrator's prose style grows choppier and more paranoid. She fears that everyone else is trying to figure out the meaning of the wallpaper, particularly Jennie. When she comes upon Jennie touching the wallpaper, the narrator is overcome with rage and has to restrain herself in order not to frighten Jennie. Her final declaration demonstrates the extent of her obsession with the wallpaper: “nobody shall find it out but myself!”