Recently having given birth and suffering from a "nervous condition," the unnamed narrator has been prescribed total rest as a treatment. This means that she must do very little that is physically or mentally stimulating in the hope that she will regain her mental health. The confinement and inactivity of the treatment, however, only make her mental condition deteriorate. She becomes obsessed with the pattern of the yellow wallpaper in her room, and her preoccupation with its twistings and turnings serves to catch and trap her mind and imagination. Her preoccupation eventually detaches completely from reality, as her imaginations become hallucinations, and her view of other people becomes more and more paranoid. Many readers believe the narrator's name is Jane, revealed in a cryptic comment at the very end of the story.
The narrator's husband is an upstanding gentleman doctor, and, as such, he is the face of 19th-century patriarchal oppression of women. While he is depicted as loving and well meaning, he infantilizes and controls his wife, calling her "little," situating her in the house's nursery, giving orders that she must obey, and restricting her freedom to an extreme degree by modern standards. Yet he seems naive about her condition, and, in the end, he is shocked when her mental deterioration becomes obvious.
The narrator calls Jennie a "dear girl" who is very careful with her charge. However, the narrator also says she "must not let her find me writing," suggesting that Jennie is complicit with John in suppressing the narrator's need for a creative outlet. Jennie herself seems rather dull, a "perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper" who does not aspire to anything more. fMary
The narrator describes Mary as "so good with the baby." The caretaker is not mentioned by name again, although readers learn that "the baby is well and happy." Mary is clearly not only doing her job with the baby but, like Jennie, is another force cutting the narrator off from any useful stimulation or focus.