Sylvia Plath Theme of Honesty

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Jade Bevan

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‘Plath uses honesty in the character or ‘Esther’ to reflect her personal anxieties’. Explore the theme of honesty in ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson’s ‘Selected Poems’. In the course of your writing show how your ideas have been illuminated by your response to ‘Catcher in the Rye’ by J. D. Salinger and other readings of both texts.

The theme of honesty is one that is echoed throughout all three of the authors writing, but is expressed in different ways. Sylvia Plath’s character ‘Esther Greenwood’ in ‘The Bell Jar’ is much like J. D. Salinger’s character ‘Holden Caulfield’ in ‘Catcher in the Rye’. Both characters have a cynical tendency to constantly reveal their inner most opinions about the society around them, discussing their feelings about personalities and appearances. Plath and Salinger were both born in the early twentieth century, despite this had completely opposing backgrounds and upbringings. Plath experienced a quiet and subtle early life in Winthrop Massachusetts, a small seaport town. Whereas Salinger endured a mainstream, fast paced and fashionable beginning in the city of New York. Both these places can make a person incredibly sociable or utterly isolated. Emily Dickinson’s ‘Selected Poems’ also reveals honesty and she confesses her depression very openly and concisely. Being born in the nineteenth century, Dickinson often expresses her opinions of the social placement of women and their restricted lives. She is unlike the ‘stereotypical woman’ of her era, and retaliates in her writing against the inequalities between the sexes. Many critics believe her to be a feminist. Throughout the ‘Coming of age’ novel ‘The Bell Jar’, Greenwood, the protagonist narrator, is constantly breaking down situations, people and objects around her, like saliva to food. She over analyses the nature of society all around her, and enjoys criticising. When Greenwood first introduces the reader to ‘Doreen’, the mischievous opposite to Greenwood, she contradicts her description beginning with ‘I guess one of my troubles was Doreen’. This statement makes the reader begin to build a negative, unpleasant personality in their minds. However she concludes her description with ‘a mysterious sneer, as if all the people around her were pretty silly and she could tell some good jokes on them if she wanted to’. This statement shows a clear admiration for Doreen, differing from the initial introduction, however also shows Esther expressing her opinion of Doreen being a mean kind of person, but likes that about her. This could be considered to be a hidden metaphor, for Greenwood’s slow decent into depression and madness, beginning with confusion and uncertainty, typical signs of insanity, which reflects the rest of her story. This is an upfront and honest introduction to the novel. This shows a friendship between the two characters, but a kind that is of a girlish jealous nature. Greenwood clearly admires Doreen’s personality but envies her social power at the same time. Plath also reveals Greenwood’s detachment and alienation from others throughout the novel, isolating her character. This could be to remind the reader of her insane self compared to the sane society and people around her. This can be explained through Greenwood stating ‘I felt myself shrinking to a small black dot against all those red and white rugs, and that pine-panelling. I felt like a hole in the ground’, in this short description of her feelings, she shows vast indications of isolation and depression. The use of the words ‘shrinking’ and ‘small’ reflect her feelings of disappearing and becoming non-existent to the world. Also, describing herself as ‘black’ compared to the ‘red and white rugs’ is a use of juxtaposition in the colours, which show how uninteresting she finds herself, being dull and dark in comparison to the bright vibrant rugs, which could imply the rest of society around her. This...
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