Is the narrator reliable or unreliable?

The narrator of the story is, for all practical purposes, unreliable. Since the story is a first-person narrative, the reader only has access to a point of view which a psychological condition comes to dominate. The disturbing patterns in the wallpaper and the creeping woman behind them are hallucinations which only the narrator, and therefore the reader, can see. The overall unreliability of a narrator descending into madness does not, however, take away from the inherent truths of her symbolic visions.

Why does John faint at the end of the story?

John faints at the end of the story because the narrator’s erratic and destructive behavior shocks him. He cannot believe that his wife, whom he presumed was improving in her condition, has fallen into such animalistic behavior. On a metaphorical level, his shock stems from the fact that she had the strength and courage to break from the social expectations which trapped her in a personally unfulfilling life, just like her vision of the woman in the wallpaper. 

What condition does the narrator have?

While Gilman never explicitly offers a diagnosis for the narrator, critics today tend to agree that the narrator has some form of postpartum depression. Her concerned mentions of her baby, along with references to her “nervous depression,” suggest that the experience of becoming a new mother has taken a significant toll on her mental health. Of course, postpartum depression was not a formal term during Gilman’s time, leading many to describe the condition as a form of hysteria or nervousness as John does.

Who is Jane, the character that the narrator mentions at the end of the story?

The question of Jane’s identity is one that has occupied critics for decades. Some argue that “Jane” is simply a misprint for “Jennie,” meaning that the narrator’s final remarks to John are about overcoming both his and his sister’s control. A second, arguably more compelling reading is that the narrator’s name is Jane and that she is proclaiming victory over herself. Not only has she broken free of John’s control, but she has allowed herself to let go of her anxieties and express an uninhibited version of herself. 

What does the woman in the wallpaper represent?

The creeping woman that the narrator spots shaking the pattern of the wallpaper serves as a representation of both the narrator herself and Victorian-era women at large. At first, the image of the woman appears rather unclear, but as the narrator’s time in the nursery drags on and her condition worsens, she begins to see the trapped woman clearly. The line between the narrator and the woman blurs as she begins to describe herself as “creep[ing] by daylight,” identifying with her wallpaper counterpart. Mentioning the fact that, eventually, “there are so many of those creeping women” suggests that others face a similarly oppressive fate. In the end, the nameless narrator fully conflates herself with the wallpaper woman and declares herself free from the paper, an act which allows both of them to serve as a stand-in for any woman suffering under patriarchal structures.