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Exploring the character of the antagonist in sylvia plaths novel the bell jar

The theoretical literature encompasses studies on female auto- biography, Joan W. In ultimately reintegrating her protag- onist into a society which is only ideologically represented as desirable, Sylvia Plath, perhaps inadvertently, made overt the lack of possible narratives for acceptable female experience and the unacknowledged multitudes of untold herstories which deserve recognition. The Bell Jar belongs to the long-established tradition of the bil- dungsroman Wagner Such a ictional reconiguration of autobiography was for Plath a way to deal with her complex, deeply traumatic past, which was conditioned by numerous problematic cultural variables.

It is important to note that autobiographies by women writers tend not to be taken up by critics if they do not conform to the established literary canon. Even if taken into consideration, female autobiography is positioned on the margins of lit- erature. Positioned in a wider frame- work of critical thought on the relationship between history and iction, The Bell Jar will also be analyzed with respect to its transformative potential as a reshaping of autobiographical past.

Quite to the contrary, by placing her main pro- tagonist, Esther Greenwood, in an environment which stiles her personal growth precisely on account of being a woman, Plath made an attempt at re-visioning the past, which was her own autobiographical experience.

She is silenced and deprived of assuming a willfully desired identity, forced to repeat the pattern traditionally allotted to women. Literary critics commit the same mistake concerning narratives about the past as historians do when they take for granted the narrative shaping of past ex- periences. Her study was one of the irst inluential statements about the signiicance of the personal and the familial, which is further intertwined with categories of gender, class, and race, thus forming the basis of the political functioning of the state.

He considered such identiication to be culturally ir- responsible. Hayden White, on the other hand, veered more toward an overlapping account of historical and ictional narratives, building upon the abovementioned artiiciality of narrativization White Leaving aside the still-relevant debate on the relationship between historical and ictional discourses, the ideological nature of a narratively imposed meaning is what will igure greatly in the analysis of The Bell Jar. Moreover, when speaking about female autobiography, a relevant term would be autoiction, which was irst used by Serge Doubrovsky, whose writing encompasses Holocaust themes and frameworks Jones The heteroglossia of female autobiography creates a poetics layered with subversive manifestations of the narratives of lived experience.

In the work of Sylvia Plath, the self is likewise embedded in the ex- periences portrayed, not so much narrated, as re-imagined, re-created, re-lived. As early aswhen she was just 19 years old, Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal that [w]riting is a religious act: A shaping which does not pass away like a day of typing or a day of teaching. Placed in the position of the Other, according to Felman, women do not yet have an autobiography since, until they can truly have a life as culturally and socially valued as men do, a life which they would be able to confess in literature, their writing still functions as a series of attempts — acts of struggle.

Her dissolved self follows the path of ritual initiation proposed by the patriarchal system which forces her to complete it without self-re- alization. Esther acts as a symptom of a corrupt society, exploring the character of the antagonist in sylvia plaths novel the bell jar covertly forces upon its members a historical narrative that privileges only a select group.

It covers the period when she was in New York in the sum- mer of and its aftermath, including her depression, attempted suicide, and medical treatment. For her, this editorship was a way to break with her academic routine and to experience the reality of life. However, the real life would prove disastrous for both her mental and physical well-being. The pressures to conform to the ambivalent demands of the patriarchal society and her own professional and personal ambitions tore her apart.

That character is fate soon proved to apply only to the neatly ordered universe of college campuses, and not to the world at large. Upon returning home, Plath discovered that her exploring the character of the antagonist in sylvia plaths novel the bell jar to attend a summer class on story-writing at Harvard had been rejected, which forced her into a psychological and a creative halt.

Her depression worsened and after several unsuccessful visits to a psychiatrist which included electroconvulsive shock therapy ECTin AugustPlath locked herself in the cellar of her home, ingested a large amount of sleeping pills, and almost died in consequence. She was found unconscious three days later and taken to hospital where they managed to resuscitate her.

After four months in a private rehabilitation centre, paid by her sponsor Olive Higgins, Plath was subjected to ECT again, but this time under the supervision of her psychiatrist, Dr Ruth Beuscher, who would become an important igure in her life, as a councilor and a motherly inluence.

Following therapy, Plath resumed her life and studies Stevenson Partly in order to battle the demons of her past, Plath began writing The Bell Jar during the s.

However, while facing her private demons, she simul- taneously confronted the demons of the patriarchal society which had an already mapped-out road for her to take.

Diverging from that road or taking several roads simultaneously was a socially punishable act. I saw my life branching out before me like the green ig tree in the story.

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple ig, a wonderful future beck- oned and winked. To face the per- son Plath was at twenty, along with the causes and implications of her attempted suicide, meant also uncovering the background of her depression and of her dislo- cated self in a society which had greatly contributed to it.

The void she identiies with is emphasized throughout the novel, referencing the traumatic condition of female experience which speaks in an incomprehensible language. She continues to decompress and fade into in- signiicance as she is introduced to people in New York: I felt like a hole in the ground.

The Bell Jar is a novel told in the irst person, bordering on stream of con- sciousness. It can be divided into three chronotopic parts, which locate Esther Greenwood in the hellish atmosphere of New York, back in the quiet suburbs of Boston, and inally in the mental institution after an attempted suicide. Two three- part structures in The Bell Jar coincide with the ritual framework of initiation, which is composed of the stages of separation, initiation, and reintegration Camp- bell In The Bell Jar, however, they are intermingled, particularly be- cause the uniied Bostonian self is shown only through reminiscences of the main protagonist.

Therefore, in the mental institution, a new rite of passage occurs for Esther: Guinea had given me up, to the state place next door. Throughout the novel, Esther encounters both male and female characters who function as relections of her own self. The ideology of the age is represented via these protagonists — all the men are scrutinized as possible romantic partners, and all the women as potential role-models or antagonists.

Not only testimony to, but also testimony for — in other words, as legitimation. She is persistently pushed into excelling in order to be happy, while her happiness is propagated as satisfaction of social demands which function on the basis of dou- ble standards for men and women. The autobiographical experience as iction makes visible the existing loopholes which the patriarchal system readily exploits.

It uncovers the conditions upon which the dominant order functions, and which simultaneously prevent individuals and stories pertaining to them from entering the oficial histori- cal record. Although Plath may have wanted to write novel on the rebirth of female identity and her reintegration into a healthy society, she was in fact delineating a progression into a state of greater sickness and displacement for her protagonist, masked as a social rite of passage.

Exploring the character of the antagonist in sylvia plaths novel the bell jar

Esther is trapped in a loop of wanting to fulill her own aspirations toward professional and personal accomplishment, and the societal demands placed on her primarily because of her gender3.

The Bell Jar opens with a historical reference: Throughout the novel, Esther will bear great resemblance to Ethel Rosenberg. On the other hand, just as the Rosenbergs were convicted without suficient valid evidence and out of misguided fear, so was Esther sentenced to a stay in a mental institution where she would undergo treatment in order to conform to a society which doomed her to fail in the irst place.

History in The Bell Jar is portrayed via the private sphere, inside the mind of a female protagonist whose trauma arises from the inability of her female self to be realized as a human self, in a society which considers it as subordinated, insuficient, and marked.

In post-war America, it was not uncommon for families to cohesively succumb to a comfortable complacency. It was my own silence. The last thing I wanted was in- inite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.

Coming-of-age since the 18th century

Instead, the process of reintegration is fraught with doubt, ambiguity, and insecurity. Esther is not granted a voice of her own, with which she would convey her past experiences and sense of selfhood. On the contrary, she is stripped of her uniqueness, which was labeled sick and undesirable by the dominant patriarchal system, and forced to bury her trauma in the paper- work of a mental institution which does not heal, but only supericially corrects. Eliot were the preconditions of a historical sense.

However, this pastness of the past was not easy, if at all feasible, to accom- plish for an aspiring woman in the s, who was a product of a climate of an increasingly failing American Dream, the rise of the Cold War, McCarthy era of persecution in the US, and a heightening awareness of the idea of gender and sexu- ality which were at the onset of being severely questioned. On the one hand, there was the declining sense of the belief in a uniied self, and on the other, a growing sense of a possible rebellion towards the ideology which forces the image of that uniied self on people, therefore oppressing the non-dominant groups.

But they were part of me. They were my land- scape.

  1. She is lucky enough to be able to eventually go to a private hospital, but many do not have that privilege.
  2. Her study was one of the irst inluential statements about the signiicance of the personal and the familial, which is further intertwined with categories of gender, class, and race, thus forming the basis of the political functioning of the state. Finally, she starts to recover.
  3. Throughout the novel, Esther encounters both male and female characters who function as relections of her own self.
  4. For something so prevalent, however, psychiatric disease is engulfed in the shadows of society.
  5. The Bell Jar belongs to the long-established tradition of the bil- dungsroman Wagner 1986.

She wants it to be remembered so as to become part of the oficial nar- rative. However, the means of conveying that experience remain a problem, given that dominant narrative modes do not suit the story she feels throbbing inside of her. The bell jar may be suspended, but it is not gone and she is well aware of that: That world protects itself by doing away with undesirable members, turning them into out- siders, who are, in their exile, forced to slowly perish.

The oficial stories of lived experience belong to the people outside the bell jar, while the story of the trapped individual inside of it cannot pierce through the glass, let alone be taken up and accepted.

She cannot begin to write because she is not allowed to own a voice; she still has no right to it and neither do other women.

  • In post-war America, it was not uncommon for families to cohesively succumb to a comfortable complacency;
  • The Bell Jar also provides a cautionary tale about the problems in mental healthcare;
  • Van Dyne, Susan R;
  • Diverging from that road or taking several roads simultaneously was a socially punishable act.

Those girls, too, sat under bell jars of a sort. Within the patriarchal society, women are labeled inscrutable and in their mysteriousness irrational — madwomen in the attic, to borrow the phrase from Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar and their eponymous seminal work. Esther is required to be reintegrated into a society which labeled her mentally ill on account of nonconformity. She is forced to become like her oppressor and to believe that her slavery is freedom, which, in continuation, points to the potential failure of modernist literature to question the basis of biographical or historical narratives — their constructedness and, therefore, their fallibleness.

The novel was interpreted as autoiction via which Plath attempted to liberate herself from an oppressive past experience, but also to point to a possibility of struggle through re-vision.

Esther Greenwood may have completed a semi-successful rite of passage, but in rein- tegrating her into a society which is only ideologically represented as desirable, Plath, perhaps inadvertently, made overt the lack of possible narratives for accept- able female experience and the unacknowledged multitudes of untold herstories which deserve recognition. Plath implicitly voiced a demand for female reconig- uration of the oficial historical conception of the world, one that Smith pointed to and one that to this day pulses with subversive strength: With that new subjectivity may come a new system of values, a new kind of language and narrative form, perhaps even a new discourse, an alternative to the prevailing ideology of gender.

A Study of Suicide. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Princ- eton University Press. Psychoanalysis, Culture and Trauma — Introduction. Fictional versus Historical Lives: Borderlines and Borderline Cases.

Possible Worlds of Fiction and History.

Coming-of-age since the 18th century

Tradition and the Individual Talent. What does a Woman Want?: Reading and Sexual Difference. Johns Hopkins University Press. The Poetry of Sylvia Plath. University of Illinois Press. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath,