“The Yellow Wallpaper” Summary by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper Summary by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
“The Yellow Wallpaper” Summary

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a very popular and often anthologized short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in 1892. It’s about a woman who’s given a rest-cure with a diagnosis of a temporary nervous depression. It’s slightly on the long side, at over 6,000 words, so I hope this “Yellow Wallpaper” summary is helpful. Still, it’s better as a supplement to reading the story rather than as a replacement.

Here’s a summary of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” Summary

The narrator and her husband, John, are staying at an old mansion for the summer. She feels there’s something strange about the place.

She’s there to rest as a cure for her nervous depression and hysterical tendency. She believes she’s sick. John and her brother, both doctors, agree that there’s nothing wrong with her—she just needs rest, tonics, air, and exercise. She believes some work and stimulation would do her good. She writes a bit, even though it’s not allowed.

The house is beautiful and has a huge garden. It’s been empty for years. She wanted a room downstairs that was nicer, but she has to stay in the nursery at the top of the house. It gets lots of air and sunshine. There are bars on the windows. The wallpaper is terrible—chaotically patterned, patchy, and an unclean looking yellow and orange.

She puts her pen and paper away because John is coming; he doesn’t want her writing.

It’s two weeks later before she feels like writing again. She’s weak. John is away often with work. She suffers despite there being no reason for her to. She feels a burden to John. Everything is a great effort. Mary looks after the baby.

The narrator has expressed her dislike of the wallpaper, but John won’t give in to a fancy like that. Their stay is helping her and they’ll only be there three months.

She wants to go downstairs but doesn’t want to make work for John. From her windows she can see the garden and the bay with a path from the house. She imagines seeing people walking there. John warns her to check these creative fancies; they’ll only aggravate her nerves.

She’d like to write more but finds it tiring. She misses companionship, but can’t have any visitors until she’s feeling better. The wallpaper is bothering her more. Parts look like a broken neck and eyes. She remembers seeing things in objects as a child, but this is the most she’s ever perceived.

There are other problems with the room—the furniture is inharmonious and the floor and bed are damaged.

John’s sister, a contented housekeeper, can be seen approaching through the window. She also disapproves of the writing.

There’s another pattern in the wallpaper that’s hard to see. She can also see some kind of figure behind the main pattern. Hearing John’s sister on the stairs, the narrator stops writing.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” Summary, Cont’d

It’s after the Fourth of July when the narrator writes again. They’ve had a visit from some family. Jennie, John’s sister, took care of everything.

The narrator is still tired. John will send her to Doctor Weir Mitchell if she doesn’t improve soon. She doesn’t want to go there. His methods are the same except more extreme.

Her mood is worse; she cries a lot. She’s alone most of the time. She occasionally walks down the lane and into the garden.

She lies in bed looking at the wallpaper for hours. There’s no consistent pattern. She finds a starting point and follows it until it breaks down. It makes her tired, so she takes a nap.

The next time the narrator writes she’s hesitant. She feels compelled to say what she feels, even though she’s very tired and John wouldn’t believe her.

She tries to convince John to let her visit some family. She cries before the conversation ends, and he won’t allow the visit. It’s getting harder to think straight.

John carries her upstairs and reads to her before she falls asleep. He tries to comfort her, and urges her to will herself out of this predicament.

The baby is well. She’s relieved the baby doesn’t have to spend time in this nursery with its horrid wallpaper. She can handle it better.

She knows not to talk about the paper anymore, but she still watches it. There are things in it only she knows. Behind the pattern she sees numerous figures like a woman stooping down and creeping around. She’s desperate for John to take her out of the room.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” Summary, Cont’d

Last night, the narrator tried talking to her husband about her situation. She lies awake looking at the moonlight on the paper. She still sees the figure in it. She gets up to touch it, to see if it’s moving.

John wakes up and she tells him she wants to leave. There are many reasons they can’t go yet—the lease is for three more weeks, repairs on their own home are ongoing, and she’s gaining weight and eating better. She disagrees about her improvement, but John dismisses the notion.

She suggests her mental state may be poor; John reproaches her and warns of the danger of thinking along those lines. She needs to trust his medical expertise.

John goes back to sleep, while the narrator lies awake for hours contemplating the wallpaper. Everything about it is unsettling—the hideous color, the wild pattern, how it seems to move, and how it changes in the light. She watches it constantly. She’s sure there’s a woman behind the pattern. When any light hits it at night, she sees bars in the pattern.

John makes her lie down for an hour after each meal. She pretends to sleep. John and Jennie seem a bit odd. She’s caught them at times looking at the wallpaper. Perhaps they’re being affected by it as well. Jennie said the paper was staining things.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" Summary by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
“The Yellow Wallpaper” Summary, Continued

The narrator’s spirits improve. She’s eating better and is more quiet. It’s because of the wallpaper. She’s excited to find out the secret of its pattern. She doesn’t want to leave anymore. There’s a week left, and that should be enough.

The narrator feels even better. She sleeps a lot during the day but not at night, when the pattern is so active.

The week has been foggy and rainy. She notices a smell from the wallpaper. It’s always been there, but without as much sun and air, it’s stronger. It creeps everywhere through the house and even gets in her hair. The smell seems to be of the color of the paper. It bothered her so much at first she considered burning the house down. Now, she’s used to it.

She notices a streak low on the wall near the floor that runs all around the room. It only breaks at the bed. She wonders what it’s for.

She’s discovered that the wallpaper does move. The woman behind shakes it when she crawls around. She tries to get through the bars, but can’t.

The Yellow Wallpaper Summary Gilman
“The Yellow Wallpaper” Summary, Cont’d

The narrator believes the woman in the pattern gets out during the day. She sees her through the windows, creeping all over the grounds. She creeps herself during the day when John won’t catch her. She wishes John would sleep in a different room. She wonders if the woman can be seen from all the windows simultaneously, but she can only look out one at a time.

She wants to get the top pattern off of the under pattern. She’s found out something but won’t reveal it yet. There’s two days left. John talks to Jennie about her progress. He pretends to care but she sees through it. She’s sure John and Jennie are badly affected by the paper.

It’s the last day. John has to stay in town a while, so the narrator is alone in her room. In the moonlight, the woman in the paper shook it and the narrator helps her get out. They manage to peel off a large chunk of the paper.

Movers come to take her things out of the room. All that remains is the bed. Jennie is amazed at the wall and tries to get her out of the room. The narrator says she’ll rest well with everything gone and not to wake her, even for supper.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” Summary, Cont’d

She locks the door and throws the key out the window. She’s hidden a rope to tie up the woman with. She has nothing to stand on to reach the top of the paper. The bed won’t move. She bites a piece off it. She peels off the paper she can reach.

She feels like jumping out the window but wouldn’t even without the bars, because it would be misinterpreted. All those creeping women are still outside. The narrator has secured herself with the rope so she won’t be forced outside.

She enjoys creeping in the room. It will be hard to go back behind the pattern at night. John is at the door now, pounding, trying to get in. He wants an axe. She tells him the key is outside by the front steps. She says it over and over until he leaves and finds it.

He comes in and freezes near the door. He asks what she’s doing. She creeps on the floor, looking at him over her shoulder. She’s gotten out and they can’t put her back, because she’s pulled off most of the paper.

John faints right across her path. She has to creep over him every time.

(End of “The Yellow Wallpaper” summary)

I hope this “The Yellow Wallpaper” summary by Charlotte Perkins Gilman was helpful.