At the summer home she is trapped in a room to rest and adhere to "a schedule prescription for each hour in the day" (6). Trapped in this bedroom she is left alone to stare at the yellow wallpaper that becomes a symbol of her madness. Behind the wallpaper is a woman that is struggling to get free. Suffering from post-partum depression, the author is slowly driven into insanity by the self-fulfilling prophecy of her husband's diagnosis and her own insecurities.
As the story progresses, the forbidden diary entries become more secretive as the yellow wallpaper becomes ever more hideous and foreboding. The wallpaper commits every artistic sin, "is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering, unclean yellow, slowly faded by the slow-turning sunlight", with curves that "suddenly commit suicide" (8). The yellow is described as "a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others" (8). Lurking behind the paper is a "strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to sulk out behind that silly and conspicuous front design" (18-19). The more the author stares at the paper, the more uncomfortable she becomes with its creatures and ghosts that inhabit the patterns. The figure behind the paper takes the form of a woman that is trying to escape.
While to the outside world, and her husband, the author seems to be improving, she is spiraling down into ever-greater depths of insanity. She has noticed that the yellow color of the wallpaper has manifested as an odor that permeates the house. "The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper - a yellow smell" (41). The woman behind the paper becomes more animated and agitated as "The front pattern does move - and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it" (42)! The woman struggles to be released from the pattern on the wall and "is all the time trying to crawl through. But nobody could climb through that pattern - it strangles so" (42-43). The author begins to see the mythical woman out of all the windows, on the grounds, and on the road.
In the author's final entry, she is madly struggling to free the woman from behind the wallpaper and attempt to capture her. She tears at the paper to remove it and suddenly makes the connection between the wallpaper and her own mind. She questions, "I wonder if they all come out of that wall paper, as I did" (52). She is now secure with her insanity and locks herself inside the room. He husband calls for an axe to chop down the door and wonders what is wrong with his wife. She tells him, "I've got out at last, in spite of you and Jane! And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back" (55). Her physician husband faints, but the author is free and must "creep over him every time" (55). She has realized she is not mad, or insane, she is a woman. Like so many other women of the era she has freed herself from the hideous yellow prison and can now creep freely through society.
In the male dominated society, the author has no identity to call her own. She does not have a profession and we do not know her name. She is literally locked in a room, forbidden to write, and even her baby is cared for by another woman named simply Mary. In this room, her illness is illustrated by the hideous yellow wallpaper than covers the room, and consumes her life.