John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.
The narrator’s initial introduction of her doctor husband, John, makes him sound like a modern, scientific man. Here he laughs at her suspicion of their rented house as possibly haunted. However, his refusal to believe in things unseen does not bode well for the narrator. He cannot see her illness either, and thus does not really believe she is sick. Therefore, he prescribes inappropriate treatment.
If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?
The narrator explains that John believes her illness to be self-created or “all in her head.” He even tells friends and family this diagnosis. His dismissiveness reveals a lack of respect for his wife as both a person and as his patient. When he tells friends they shouldn’t worry about the narrator, he reveals his lack of concern as well. As he doesn’t believe in her illness, his treatment plan will fail.
[T]here is something strange about the house—I can feel it. I even said so to John one moonlight evening, but he said what I felt was a draught, and shut the window.
The narrator continues to find their rented house creepy, and John continues to deny her concerns as hysteria. John wants them to stay in the house because of its fresh air, which, with a purely bodily understanding of health, does make sense. Yet he fails to accept that living with the wallpaper truly bothers his wife—and in fact negatively affects her mental state.
John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious.
The narrator explains her husband’s devotion to his patients. However, this devotion appears to stop when it comes to his wife’s true needs. As he doesn’t believe in her illness, he sees nothing wrong with being absent all of the time. But the narrator’s isolation, loneliness, and idleness based on John’s orders negatively affect her mental health. In serving his other patients he puts his wife’s health in jeopardy.
I suppose John never was nervous in his life. He laughs at me so about this wall-paper! At first he meant to repaper the room, but afterwards he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies.
The narrator reveals how John truly believes that she can control her condition. She must ignore unwanted thoughts, such as her hatred of the wallpaper. However, by refusing to get rid of the wallpaper, he makes her fight all the harder. He could ease her struggle by repapering. This description of John’s attitude portrays his indifference toward his wife’s suffering, made all the more callous in light of his profession as a doctor.
He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well. He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me.
Here, the narrator describes two approaches John tries to talk her out of her illness. He wants her to use her will to protect her mind by avoiding irrational thoughts. But he also calls on her to get well for his sake. John’s trivializing her thoughts and his appealing to her to care for him as her husband underscores John’s belief that she has control over her illness, unaware of the strength of her psychosis.
The repairs are not done at home, and I cannot possibly leave town just now. Of course if you were in any danger, I could and I would, but you really are better, dear, whether you can see it or not. You are gaining flesh and color, your appetite is better, I really feel much easier about you.
John explains why they can’t leave the house early, despite knowing that the narrator’s feelings about the yellow wallpaper have become quite irrational. John’s response shows that he only judges her health from external markers. He deems all of the narrator’s requests—to write, to see friends, and, most of all, to get out of the room with the yellow wallpaper—unimportant or even counterproductive. He seems unable or perhaps unwilling to understand her needs.
John knows I don’t sleep very well at night, for all I’m so quiet! He asked me all sorts of questions, too, and pretended to be very loving and kind. As if I couldn’t see through him!
As the narrator’s mental decline deepens, she no longer speaks of John as her loving husband. She sees his concern for her health as false. This paranoia reflects her increasing mental illness, but her observations gain sympathy with the reader: He does not really care about her health. If he truly cared, he would have changed the treatment.
Why there’s John at the door! It is no use, young man, you can’t open it! How he does call and pound! Now he’s crying for an axe.
The narrator describes John’s reaction to her locking herself in the bedroom. The fact that John calls for an axe shows that he believes the situation to be very serious, a reaction caused by his calling and pounding getting no response. The narrator calling her husband “young man” instead of John and describing his panicked response so calmly reveal how detached she has become from both him and her current situation.