As her madness progresses the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper becomes increasingly aware of a woman present in the pattern of the wallpaper. She sees this woman struggling against the paper's "bars". Later in her madness she imagines there to be many women lost in its "torturing" pattern, trying in vain to climb through it. The woman caught in the wallpaper seems to parallel the narrator's virtual imprisonment by her well-meaning husband. While the narrator's perception of the wallpaper reveals her increasing madness, it effectively symbolizes the struggle of women who attempt to break out of society's feminine standards. The narrator writes furtively in her room, having to hide her writing from her family.
They feel that her only road to recovery is through total R & R, that she should not have to lift a finger, let alone stimulate a single neuron in her female brain. While she appreciates their concern she feels stifled and bored. She feels that her condition is only being worsened by her lack of stimulus, but it is not simply boredom that bothers her. She is constantly feeling guilty and unappreciative for questioning her family's advice.
This causes her to question her self-awareness and her own perception of reality. "I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus; but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad". She also faults herself for not taking care of her home and family. Like Dickinson, she is caught up in the cobwebs of her society's ideology. She has an immediate dislike for the wallpaper and at first studies it with the eye of a critical interior decorator. The pattern fascinates her and she becomes increasingly obsessed with uncovering its secrets.
Eventually it becomes the center of her life and her only concern. On the most basic level, it is apparent that anyone who becomes obsessed with wallpaper and believes it to hold a world that people inhabit is insane. Looking deeper into what the narrator reads into the wallpaper, we can understand her more clearly. The woman she sees in the wallpaper struggling to break free of the bars seems to reflect and reinforce her own desire to leave the house. When she first writes of the woman shaking the wallpaper at night, trying to escape, this coincides with her attempt to convince her husband to take her away from the place.
Neither woman is successful in breaking away and the narrator begins to read even more into the pattern. While outwardly and on a conscious level she accepts John's refusal to leave, she seems to be projecting her real anger and resentment onto the wallpaper; The pattern "slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you". After this incident, and following description of the "torturing" pattern, she begins to be protective of the wallpaper. She becomes paranoid of anyone infringing on her territory; "I know she was studying that pattern, and I am determined that no one shall find it out but myself!" It has become personal to her, a place where she sees her own feelings projected. As she tries to understand the pattern, it is as if she is trying to understand herself and how her own mind is working. As she becomes more and more withdrawn, she becomes more fixated on the wallpaper.
As her mental state unravels, she sees more and more frenzied activity in the wallpaper, and eventually feels the need to physically pull the wallpaper off the wall. With this final act she seems to lose what little sense she has left, and the story ends with her crawling around on the floor like an animal. While the wallpaper provides a haven for the narrator, and the activity on it reflects her mental state, there seems to be a deeper meaning in it. As the narrator goes progressively more insane, she actually becomes much calmer in her writing. The tone becomes less anxious, more analytical, and suggests that she is finding some rational meaning in the pattern on the wall. As she tries to stimulate her mind and break out of the role of being the docile wife she runs up against the wall of society and their resistance to bending of gender roles.
As a woman, it is not even conceivable that it is her mind that needs to be treated, so even as she sees what is wrong with her and desires some mental stimulation, she is told nicely to shut up and go to bed. While at the beginning she is simply depressed, she is driven mad by the restraints society places on her. The women she sees in the wallpaper are trying desperately to break through the pattern on the wall that restrains them, just as society does. As hard as they try they can't get figure out how to break out; "You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back somersault and there you are". The pattern of the yellow wallpaper reflects the mental state of the narrator, as she projects her feelings onto it. The pattern also represents the limits society places on women and the resistance of society to women, such as her, who are trying to break free.
While the narrator's perception of the wallpaper reveals her increasing madness, it effectively symbolizes the limits society places on women and the resistance of society to women, such as her, who are trying to break free.