It may be argued that conflict in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” exists in a concentric form; that is, external conflicts surround, and virtually create, the internal conflict within the narrator. Regarding that wider sphere, it is also evident that the conflict occurs on planes incorporating the physical, moral, emotional, and intellectual, and the process is exponential. More exactly, there is the crucial component of the narrator’s confinement as an expression of physical force justified by moral conviction. Both the husband and brother feel that her physical and emotional states are too weak to allow for the creative exercise of her writing, nor even the narrator’s leaving her room, and this is clearly an imperative based on traditions of male dominance. The narrator resists and expresses defiance, but she also validates the morality of her husband oppressing her: “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction” (Gilman).
This then accentuates, if not generates, the conflict within the narrator, which is inherently emotional and psychological. It is also intellectual; the reader understands that she craves the use of her mind and creativity, but she is forbidden to work. Consequently, conflict becomes self-perpetuating and worsened. Frustrated by being unable to express herself, that same creativity emerges in a different, and destructive, form. The narrator essentially creates the conflict consuming her mind, even as this is triggered by the external circumstances, and it leads to her complete breakdown. The obsession with the wallpaper becomes all to her, and essentially an irrational means of explaining to herself her deteriorating mental state. It is her prison. The wallpaper is then the enemy in her disturbed, self-created conflict with it, and she perceives the destruction of it as her only hope of salvation. It seems to be a psychological transference, in fact; the wallpaper is her husband and all those locking her away, and she relies upon this “reality”: “And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” (Gilman). All conflict is resolved, ironically, because the narrator surrenders completely to her mania.