The Yellow Wallpaper | Study Guide

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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The Yellow Wallpaper | Plot Summary

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"The Yellow Wallpaper," which takes place in the late 1800s, is set on an isolated country estate where the narrator and her husband, John, a physician, are living for the summer. The narrator has recently given birth and has come down with a "nervous condition" for which she has been prescribed rest. This rest, however, does not simply mean taking it easy but involves the near-total elimination of all stimuli, including interacting with people, reading, writing, and even seeing her own child. Two other women have come to help with child care and domestic tasks.

Writing secretly, the narrator tells the story of her confinement in an upper room of the house—a room that was once a nursery and thus has barred windows. The room has tattered yellow wallpaper with an intricate pattern the narrator finds irritating.

Weeks pass, and the narrator finds that her anxiety and depression have increased and even the smallest tasks have become overwhelming. She asks John if they can leave the house, but he doesn't think it is practical or reasonable to give in to this "fancy." The narrator continues to obsess about the wallpaper, finding it both appalling and mesmerizing. She spends hours each day looking at it, tracking it with her eyes and trying to follow the pattern to its stopping point.

As time passes, she becomes more and more paranoid and increasingly fascinated by the pattern of the yellow wallpaper. She considers what it looks like. She comes to believe that there is a woman trapped behind the pattern—a woman who wants to escape. She observes this woman first as a crouching shadow, then as a woman who shakes the pattern, trying to get through, and then as many women, creeping about behind the pattern. She begins to hallucinate frequently, noticing that the woman sometimes gets out from the wallpaper and creeps around outside. The narrator feels much better and more energetic as she becomes more interested in the woman behind the wallpaper.

As the summer draws to a close, the narrator begins to feel that she must help the woman escape before they leave the house. She thinks that if she can peel the wallpaper off, the woman can go free. At first she peels just a little at a time. Ultimately, she locks herself in the room and begins to peel the paper off the walls in earnest. As she completes this task, she begins to identify herself as the woman, and creeps along the floor around the room, following a streak on the wallpaper. John finds her in this state and faints. She creeps over him and continues on her path.

The Yellow Wallpaper Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 The depressed narrator has been isolated on doctor's orders.

Rising Action

2 She takes a dislike to the yellow wallpaper in her room.

3 She becomes obsessed with the pattern of the wallpaper.

4 She becomes convinced a woman is trapped behind the pattern.


5 She locks herself in the room and peels away the wallpaper.

Falling Action

6 John faints in her path as she creeps along the wall.


7 The narrator continues to crawl along the wall.

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