Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?
The narrator pinpoints the things she really needs to lessen her depression. Unfortunately, work, excitement, and change represent stimulation that her husband has forbidden as part of his cure plan. The narrator knows herself and knows that these things have always made her happy in the past. Her husband believes these things exacerbate her nervous disposition—she should be happy simply within her roles of wife and mother. The narrator clearly desires an intellectual life, in addition to her domestic roles, to feel like a whole human being.
He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction. I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more.
The narrator reveals that, in the interest of curing his wife, John takes from her all responsibility for thinking for herself. He treats her as though she suffered a physical illness or injury, but such treatment proves useless in this scenario. Ironically, John does not really believe she has an illness. He believes she can will her own health back by avoiding mental “fancies.” But by depriving her of even the most basic daily purpose of thinking and planning her activities, he leaves her even more time to obsess over her illness, the very thing he does not want her to do.
You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was. . . . I’m feeling ever so much better! I don’t sleep much at night, for it is so interesting to watch developments[.]
Needing a purpose, the narrator finds one at last—obsessing over the yellow wallpaper and what she perceives as a woman on the other side of the paper’s pattern. Her brain, deprived of real work, devises this project for itself. Because of her new interest, the narrator now appears physically healthier, as she eats and behaves better. But of course, the obsession shows the dramatic progression of her mental illness. She lies awake at night, indicating clinical depression, and she no longer recognizes her suspicions of the wallpaper as irrational, but instead as a mystery she must solve.