The main character is a woman who is overcome with an illness deemed nervous condition by her husband. At the same time, her husband is also her physician enabling him to closely monitor her. As a result, he forbids her from doing anything that could prevent her from potentially getting better, like writing and entertaining her own imagination. In an act of rebellion, she begins writing to relieve herself and it is the form that allows her to share this story. The narrator is a highly imaginative woman who is oppressed by her surroundings and is trying to break free from what is holding her down.
Throughout the story, she creates the woman who is trapped behind the yellow wallpaper of the room she remains isolated in. The narrator sees images or illusions of a woman in the wallpaper with more than a few heads, eyes all in and around the walls, and patterns that move under the moonlight and sunlight. She sees so many women in this wallpaper, but one, in particular, catches her eye. She has imagined that the woman in the wallpaper is trapped behind bars and manages to get out in the daytime.
Finally she recognizes that the woman behind the wallpaper is in fact herself. She tears the yellow wallpaper from the wall and frees the woman.
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