If Esther Trapped Herself Inside “the Bell Jar” or Was She Placed There by the Societal Pressures of Her Day.

Topics: Sociology, The Bell Jar, Suicide Pages: 5 (1824 words) Published: April 17, 2013
The Bell Jar was the single novel Sylvia Plath ever wrote. The writer used the name of Victoria Lucas to publish it. This novel written in 1963 is closely connected with the real events from the Plath’s life. The Bell Jar fundamentally tells the story of a young and talented woman in the 1950-s suddenly getting into a culminating isolating process according to a psychic inability to cope with her seemingly established in advance social life. Her work had always been critically discussed, because her written work opposed almost every norm and value of the stabilized American society of the Fifties. One of the discussed issues is if Esther trapped herself inside “the bell jar” or was she placed there by the societal pressures of her day. The human tragedies which “The Bell Jar” describes are three-fold: the execution of the Rosenbergs with which the novel opens, the horrific medical treatment given to Esther Greenwood and the more general situation of many women who are expected to conform to one or two rigid models about women. The parallel between the Rosenbergs’ execution and Esther unhappy fate is quite clear in describing the methods of treatment from her madness. Electroshock like electrocution kills everything human in living personality. Besides it is a method of repression against dissenters. The protagonist Esther was placed inside “the bell jar” by the societal pressures of her day. The postwar settlement of gender relations allowed for the higher education for women but it did not mean that women with children would actually use their education in employment. Esther Greenwood cannot find her place in the sun because of her extraordinary personality. She got scholarships and awards due to abilities and hard work. For the first time the readers meet her in New York where she is a junior editor in Ladies Day Magazine during a summer internship. Greenwood seems to have a brilliant future in front of her. She is thought “to be having the time of my life.”(Plath, Chapter 1) But such life does not suit Esther at all. She tries to do her best to be simple girl, but her soul resists it. Her boyfriend Buddy predicts her poetic ambitions will end when she becomes a mother. She realizes she cannot be both a mother and a poet. His behavior and his views on sexual freedom are so revolting to her. She cannot be hypocritical as Buddy. Social standards suppress her individuality. She can become neither such a cynical girl as Doreen nor such as God-fearing as Betsy. Her personality is too complex to follow these standards of behavior. The girl cannot develop real friendship because she does not see anybody worthy of her. She gradually alienates herself from people she used to like-her former boyfriend, her friends and her mother for them being part of the very social system she questions. The 1950-s general American values have far-reaching influence on every member of society, especially on women. It was the time of baby boomers, when people moved to the cities’ suburbs and generally oriented themselves to the “Sunbelt” states. The increased living standard led to frightful consumerism which accelerated the appearance of popular culture. Mass media also strengthen the values of American mainstream of the Fifties. Prosperous American society seemed to be helpful for the average individual in overcoming financial shortcomings in order to live ”The American dream” of wealth and happiness. But really the 1960-s, the decade of protest, are deeply rooted in the conservative rigid system of the 1950-s.Within modern society women like Esther fulfill a few roles- a housewife, a mother or a secretary. Esther has distorted perception about the family values- "… when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about as numb as a slave in a totalitarian state." (Plath, Chapter 7) Her mother advises if Esther would only learn shorthand “she would be in demand among all the upcoming young men”...

References: Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York: Harper, 1971.
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