On the ending of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’

On the last day, the narrator rejoices:

“Hurrah! This is the last day, but it is enough.”

We almost have to do a double take at the reading of this phrase – rather than celebrating her impending freedom, she is celebrating the fact that although her time is more limited than she would have liked, “…it is enough.” She has been gathering something; at first I thought strength or information. Then it had occurred to me that perhaps it simply has been long enough for her to come to a conclusion. She previously mentions “I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of conclusion.” so it appears that she has. There are three main interpretations that I have thought of.

One interpretation of the ending could be of the narrator’s reluctance to mother a child. At the beginning of the story, she notices how it demands attention she is unwilling to give, like a child. She soon starts to see “a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.” The figure resembles perhaps that of a baby or foetus. The staring eyes give the impression of the baby waiting for her. She is expected to take care of it and to nurture it but she might not feel ready yet. Regardless, she cannot escape – it is one of her duties as a wife. She comments on how angry she gets “with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness.” A baby is a baby for life, and she cannot face the prospect of such dull and arduous life raising the child. It crawls “up and down and sideways” menacingly, almost taunting her, “those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere.” In the final image we are left with, she herself is crawling like a baby round and round the room. The baby is the reason she is confined in the first place. By tearing down “all those strangled heads and bulbous eyes” and refraining from joining the many women outside who “creep so fast” tending to the house and their children, she feels has escaped the responsibility of motherhood despite the social conditions of the nineteenth-century.

Another interpretation is one of breaking free rather than breaking down. Before morning, she “had peeled off yards of that paper.” She “merrily” tells Jennie that she did it out of “pure spite”. The fact that she is so happy and relieved after the episode, prompted me to think about the nature of the outburst. All that physical energy came from some sort of rage – a rage that she had been forced to bottle up for so long, that perhaps this is just what she needed. It is a more optimistic interpretation; the breakdown was a temporary and necessary way to relieve her mind from the long-suppressed rage she has felt towards the social and economic dependence of woman on their husbands. She could recover to be psychologically at peace and creatively freer than ever before, having confronted her feelings towards the truly unrealistic role she is expected to fill.

My final interpretation suggests that the narrator’s insanity is a result of the repression of women in society. “As soon as it is moonlight,” she runs to “help” the woman behind the pattern. The wallpaper becomes a symbol of the social and domestic oppression of this woman – and so many others like her. The narrator now feels it is her duty to help the woman fight against it, in effect freeing them both. But to what end? In her mind, she becomes the woman inside the wallpaper trying to get out and the woman trying to keep her in simultaneously. She says to herself that “If that woman does get out, I can tie her!” but a few paragraphs down she finds herself “securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope,” exclaiming that she will not be joining the many creeping woman outside her window. The image of the narrator being bound inside her house with a rope brings about connotation of slavery. And the social standing of nineteenth-century woman meant that their disempowerment had bound each individual woman to their house, without prospect of meaningful work or a career outside.

Perhaps she has been driven to insanity – forced to creep: simply by seeking out intellectual stimulation and purpose for herself in the darkness of a male-dominated society, where woman were expected to be beautiful, obedient and submissive.

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