Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story "The Yellow Wallpaper" is an account of a mentally disturbed woman, Jane, and her husband's attempts to help her get well by convincing her that continual seclusion and constant bed rest is the only way to cure her psychological condition. The woman is then confined to a room in which she slowly begins to go insane. However, the story itself presents an interesting look at one woman's struggle to deal with both physical and mental confinement. This overall theme is that confinement and restrictive societal roles can cause insanity.
The Yellow Wallpaper begins with the narrator's description of the physically confining elements surrounding her. The story is cast in an isolated hereditary estate, set back from the road and located three miles from town. The property boasts protective hedges that surround the garden, walls that surround the estate, and locked gates which guarantee seclusion. Even the connecting garden represents confinement, with box-bordered paths and grape-covered arbors. This isolation motif continues within the mansion itself. Although she preferred the downstairs room, the narrator finds herself confined to the dungeon-like nursery on the second floor, appropriately equipped with rings in the walls. This imagery further develops the theme of confinement. It is here that the narrator secretly describes her slow decent into madness. Windows in each direction provide glimpses of the garden, arbors, bushes, and trees. The bay is visible, as is a private wharf that adjoins the estate. These views reinforce the theme of confinement and isolationism; they can be seen from the room, but not touched or experienced. John's domineering ways show how restrictive societal roles can cause insanity. He has imprisoned the narrator into a domestic prison. The woman in the wallpaper is imprisoned in the domestic sphere, in which women are expected only to clean the house and take care of the children.