The Bell Jar and Black Swan: The Pressure to be Perfect
In a society where competition among others and influences from the media are becoming increasingly prevalent by the decade, it is easy for one to feel the extreme pressure to be perfect. Many individuals face the internal conflict of feeling that they are not adequate enough for various personal or societal standards, often leading to unhealthy insecurities, mental and emotional instabilities, and identity crises. Firstly, society’s reminders to individuals to reach a superficial level of perfection create unhealthy stress within oneself, leading to progressive depression. Furthermore, the even harsher mental and emotional pressures put on by one’s loved ones accumulate to cause breakdowns and self-harm, ultimately negatively affecting the relationship between the two parties as the issues worsen. Lastly, the unbelievable pressures to be perfect that is put on an individual by the individual themselves are the major force that may lead one to end their life. Plath’s The Bell Jar and Aronofsky’s Black Swan contain value as they demonstrate how the various ways in which an individual experiences the pressure to be perfect are among the most destructive forces in a person’s life.
Society’s constant reminders to individuals to reach a superficial level of perfection create unhealthy stress within oneself, leading to progressive depression. Often times, external influences such as the media to meet societal standards or reach the “status quo” can make an individual feel defeated if they cannot match up to all that society demands of them. The Bell Jar takes place in the 1960’s, where the societal standards were much more traditional and conservative than they are today. The young protagonist in this novel, Esther Greenwood, finds herself trying to achieve a successful life as a student in New York while battling the extreme pressures from her surroundings – kick-starting her struggles with internal conflicts. She is told that she must be extremely intelligent so that she can pursue a fulfilling career, she must marry a perfect man and have a wonderful family, she should remain chaste throughout her time as a young adult, and above all, she must be happy about her life that society classifies as “perfect”. These are all overplayed clichés that Esther has embedded inside of her mind over the years due to society’s judgmental nature, however in the midst of her experience in New York, Esther realizes that her life is nowhere near perfection. She says, “I was supposed to be having the time of my life” (Plath 24), then later admits that she felt “very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo” (Plath 75). This marks the beginning stages of Esther’s downward spiral into self-consciousness and depression as she feels very lonely although she is surrounded by many other girls just like her in New York. This troubles her because she feels as if society’s standards are unreachable.
As days go on, the unhealthy stress only accumulates inside of Esther’s mind as she realizes the many ways in which she fails to meet society’s expectations. She says, “I started adding up all the things I couldn’t do” (Plath 71). Esther suddenly realizes the many flaws that she possesses, such as not being able to write shorthand, failing out of her courses, being a virgin, not being able to withstand a successful relationship, and feeling sorry for herself all the time. To elaborate on one of her dilemmas, there is extreme pressure for Esther to keep her virginity, and at the same time there is pressure for her to lose it to fit in, as she remarks, “Instead of the world being divided up into Catholics and Protestants or Republicans and Democrats or white men and black men or even men and women, I saw the world divided into people who had slept with somebody and people who hadn’t” (Plath 112). When...
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