Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a sad story about the cruelty that women faced in the late 1800's. The narrator is a married woman who wants to do something important with her life. However, she is limited by the restrictions of a male-dominated society. She is ignored and treated unkindly by her husband, leading to aggravation that is diagnosed as an "illness." She escapes her own reality as a way to escape this undesirable situation, and also as a means of revenge against her husband and all others who would not allow her to pursue her dreams. The story consists of several major symbolic elements, including the marriage bed nailed to the floor, the yellow wallpaper, as well as the women who hide behind the wallpaper. Each of these symbols support the major theme of this story; that is, women will do what they feel they must in order to free themselves from the limitations of society, even if it means going mad to achieve their personal goals.
The "heavy bedstead" in the story represents an immovable obstacle for generations of married women. It is nailed to the floor, with no way to get around it. It cannot go unnoticed, and it cannot be changed. In that time, the bed was a place where the man of the house was in charge, and any woman who would not obey the sexual "rights" of her husband was seen as ultimately wrong. In this story, the bed nailed to the floor is a symbol of everything holding the narrator back from achieving her dreams. No matter what she does or how she does it, she cannot move the bed, not even a tiny bit. She must gain control and realize her rights, while society tries to tell her that she has no rights when it comes to this aspect, or any other aspect, of her marriage. The narrator makes realizations about the injustices she is living, and each of these act as the back of a hammer, trying desperately to pry the nails from the floor. However, she must have a very strong will, because no matter how hard she tries, the nails will not budge, and the bed will stay in its place, because the real thing that must be changed are the ideals of this male-dominated society.