About halfway through the story, the sub-pattern of the wallpaper finally comes into focus.The narrator is being drawn further and further into her fantasy, which contains a disturbing truth about her life.
The comment is funny, but the reader knows that someone who would make such a joke is not well.
Indeed, in the section that follows, the narrator casually mentions that she considered burning the house down in order to eliminate the smell of the wallpaper.
This mental struggle, this desperate attempt not to think about her unhappiness, makes her project her feelings onto her surroundings, especially the wallpaper, which becomes a symbolic image of “her condition.” The play on words here is typical of Gilman’s consistent use of irony throughout the story.
She feels bad whenever she thinks about her “condition,” that is, about both her depression and her condition in general within her oppressive marriage.3.
The woman behind the pattern was an image of herself—she has been the one “stooping and creeping.” Further, she knows that there are many women just like her, so many that she is afraid to look at them.
The question she asks is poignant and complex: did they all have to struggle the way I did?
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 confusion over “phosphates or phosphites” is in character for someone who is not particularly interested in factual accuracy.
Gilman also begins to characterize the narrator here.
In the story’s final scene, just before John finally breaks into her room, the narrator has finished tearing off enough of the wallpaper that the woman she saw inside is now free—and the two women have become one.