The narrator’s husband John has rented a house in the country for the summer. She has been diagnosed with temporary nervous depression by her husband and brother, and they insist that she stays away from activity. The narrator, on the other hand, thinks that change and excitement would do her some good.
Her husband chooses a room with hideous yellow wallpaper for their bedroom, and the narrator has to stay a great deal of time there. Since it is an old nursery, the walls are strange and unsettling pattern. The narrator begins to focus heavily on the wallpaper each day, hating the color and becoming almost angry at the pattern.
As the days wear on, the narrator continues to write secretively, as her husband believes writing will make her nervousness worse. She writes about her extreme dislike about her wallpaper until it becomes an obsession. She continues to become more isolated as John continues to tell her that it is up to her own self-will to get better. She fancies that the pattern on the wallpaper begins to move.
The narrator continues to study the wallpaper each day and begins to notice that the pattern changes as the light in the room changes. She begins to see a woman creeping around behind the wallpaper. The narrator doesn’t really sleep anymore, and intently watches the woman in the wall creeping around the room. She also thinks that the only way to free the woman trapped behind is to rip the wallpaper, so that is what she begins to do.
The narrator finishes tearing the wallpaper and starts to feel a sense of freedom. She also begins to see the creeping woman wandering around in the arbors and the garden. The narrator believes that her husband and Jennie are growing suspicious of her behavior, so she locks herself in the room and throws the key down onto the front path.
When John comes home, he begins to bang on the bedroom door. When he finally opens the door he begins crying out at what he finds. The narrator tells him that she’s gotten out of the wallpaper finally in spite of him (and Jane), and she has pulled off most of the wallpaper so that he can’t put her back. The narrator has finally established her freedom from her husband. John faints at this, and the narrator steps over John’s body after he faints.