Feminine Identity In The Bell Jar By Sylvia Plath

3888 words - 16 pages

Despite her apparent disavowal of the overtly sexual Doreen, Esther’s anxieties about sex continue to manifest themselves through clothing, as evidenced by her attempt to cultivate a friendship with Betsy, a virginal young woman from Kansas. If Doreen is the quintessential “bad girl,” then Betsy, nicknamed “Pollyanna Cowgirl” by Doreen, is the quintessential “good” girl, with her “her bouncing blonde ponytail and Sweetheart-of-Sigma-Chi smile” (6). As a model young woman, Betsy “does” fashion correctly, eventually becoming a model herself: after her guest editorship, Betsy became a “cover girl,” and Esther occasionally sees her “smiling out of those ‘P.Q.’s wife wears B.H. Wragge’ ads” (6). Betsy performs—or at least appears to perform—culturally sanctioned femininity through clothing, so Esther promises herself that she will be loyal to Betsy and “her innocent friends” and abandon Doreen (22). In so doing, Esther attends the various fashion functions and luncheons organized for the young women working for the magazine, including the ill-fated Ladies’ Day luncheon where all of the young women—with the exception of Doreen, who was at Coney Island with her boyfriend gorging herself on hot dogs—become violently ill with food poisoning. Their symptoms become evident as Esther and Betsy sit together in a darkened theater, watching a Technicolor film that features two women—one “good,” the other “sexy” (and therefore bad)—who wear luridly-colored “smart suits with orange chrysanthemums the size of cabbages” and “dresses likes something out of Gone With the Wind.” As Esther realizes that “the nice girl” will end up with the “nice football hero” and the “sexy girl” will up alone, she feels herself “in terrible danger of puking” (42). She and Betsy make their way back to the hotel, each taking turns holding the other’s head as they vomit in the cab and the elevator. As Esther recovers in her room, it is the “bad” girl Doreen who takes care of her during her illness, feeding her a nourishing broth and keeping her company. Because Esther’s attempt to masquerade as a “Pollyanna Cowgirl” results in a case of near-fatal ptomaine poisoning, she is glad to have the wise-cracking, unconventional Doreen back again, and abandons her allegiance to the “virginal” Betsy.
Yet it is Esther’s “reunion” with Doreen—who, despite being a “bad” girl, is a good friend—that leads to an attempted rape, the traumatic event that prompts Esther to toss her clothing off of the hotel roof. Because Esther’s New York experience is defined in part by her vexed relationship with her wardrobe, it is fitting that clothing plays a key role in the incidents that occur during her final night in the city. As Esther attempts to pack the “grubby, expensive clothes” that “seemed to have a separate, mulish identity of their own” for her return to the Boston suburbs, she is interrupted by Doreen, who “[sits] on [Esther’s] bed in a mess of dirty cotton dresses and laddered nylons and gray...

Find Another Essay On Feminine Identity in The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

1594 words - 6 pages The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath One is often enticed to read a novel because of the way in which the characters are viewed and the way in which characters view their surroundings. In the novel The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Esther Greenwood is a character whose "heightened and highly emotional response to events, actions and sentiments" (Assignment sheet) intrigue the reader. One of her character traits is extreme paranoia that is shown in

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

1685 words - 7 pages What is in the spring of your life if the spring of a life refers to your first twenty years in your life? The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel by Silvia Plath, describes Esther Greenwood’s harsh spring of her life. Narrating in the first person, Esther tells her experience of a mental breakdown in a descriptive language, helping the readers visualize what she sees and feel her emotions. The novel takes place in New York City and Boston

"The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath

578 words - 2 pages London in spring of 1957. Later Sylvia became a instructor at Smith College in the English department. In April of 1960 thier first child was born and Sylvia's book of poetry was accepted for fall publication by William Heinemann Limited. In January of 1962 their second child was born. In 1962 the 'Bell Jar' was published and in 1963 she ended her life. The Bell Jar had descended again she wrote in her journal.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: Tangled in Society's Expectations

1867 words - 7 pages social conventions and expectations of women during the 1950’s displayed in The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath correlate to Esther Greenwood’s downward spiral of her mental state. Throughout the course of her journey, Esther becomes increasingly depressed because of her inability to conform to the gender roles of the women, which mainly revolved around marriage, maternity and domesticity. The primitive American culture during the 1950’s has damaging

Identity in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar

1673 words - 7 pages between her creative world and the outside society. Furthermore, it is Esther's lack of identity that dramatizes the irony and symbolism in the novel. Only when Esther begins to stand outside her own world of the bell jar, does she truly begin to see inside herself.   Works Cited and Consulted: Axelrod, Steven Gould. Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1990. Friedan, Betty. The Feminine

Sylvia Plath and the Bell Jar

1491 words - 6 pages existed to aide her mental health. Unable to cope with her ailment, Plath attempted suicide by swallowing sleeping pills at the age of nineteen; however, she withstood and was institutionalized. By fictionalizing her reality, Sylvia Plath was able to begin writing her novel, The Bell Jar, about this time in her life. Upon her recovery, Plath made a reappearance at Smith College to finish her schooling (Poetry Foundation). After Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Plath

1625 words - 7 pages story of Plath’s own life being so thin that her mother fought its publication (McCann 1631). Nevertheless, Plath’s immense hard work paid off and it was published. Writing was Plath’s passion and when she wrote, her life became an enthralling story. Sylvia Plath’s late teenage years, time right after college, and time in the mental hospital were all influential in writing The Bell Jar. Being recognized as gifted in writing early on, Plath put

The Evil Outside Forces of Depression in the Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

2134 words - 9 pages Depression is not only caused by the self induced emotional state of a person. It can also be forced onto someone by external forces that influence depression. These events can sway a person into their depression, and with nothing or no one to catch them when they fall, they could keep going down deeper. The novel The Bell Jar, written by Sylvia Plath, portrays ways that depression was pushed onto the main character, Esther. People that had once

Conservative Roles of Women in The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

1524 words - 6 pages Conservative Roles of Women in The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath The ultraconservative air of the 1950’s breeds the Betty Crocker kind of woman, satisfied with her limited role in a male-dominated society, one who simply submits to the desires and expectations of the opposite sex. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath explored the effects of society’s traditional standards on a young woman coming of age. The main character, Esther Greenwood, a

Envisioning a New Identity in The Bell Jar by Syvia Plath

2146 words - 9 pages =5e269059fa16b61208209652583eafdc 3. Johnson, Jeannine. "An overview of The Bell Jar." an Essay for Exploring Novels. Gale, 1998. Rpt. in Literature Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2014. Literature Resource Center. Web. 27 Feb. 2014. Document URL http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CH1420000688&v=2.1&u=mlin_s_stoughs&it=r&p=LitRC&sw=w&asid=8c4ca553ed8788df751b98bd3703aa50 4. McClanahan, Thomas. "Sylvia Plath." American Poets Since World War II. Ed

Differences in style of writing between "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath and "Girl, Interrupted" by Susanna Kaysen

371 words - 2 pages Since the two books are from two different genres, it is no surprise that the styles in which they are written differ - Susanna Kaysen's "Girl, Interrupted" is a collection of memoirs whereas Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar" is a novel, though autobiographical to a degree. From a literary point of view, "The Bell Jar" is the better written of the two in that its narrative has a smoother flow and it is rich with the same kind of literary techniques

Similar Essays

The Bell Jar, By Sylvia Plath

1490 words - 6 pages threat of the bell jar. The seemingly optimistic conclusion to The Bell Jar is overshadowed by the reality of Sylvia Plath’s eventual suicide. In this novel, Sylvia Plath had recorded her teen years: her disappointments, aspirations, and eventual breakdown, with an unprecedented honesty. It would not have been difficult to eradicate the suffering of the story had there been the comforting knowledge of a happy ending in real life

The Bell Jar By Sylvia Plath

1543 words - 6 pages women were expected to stay pure, submissive, domestic, and practice piety. The Bell Jar, published in 1963, introduced a central character by the name of Ester Greenwood. Ester is expressed to the audience as a talented, attractive, smart and witty individual. She is introduced as an English major who has just finished her junior year of college. She “never answered one test question wrong the whole year” (Plath 34) and when most of the girls had

Quest For Self Identity In Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing And The Bell Jar, By Sylvia Plath

2178 words - 9 pages the answers. But in The Bell Jar the character Esther recovers much of her mental and emotional stability by the end of the novel, but the reasons for her improvement are not entirely clear. To some extent, Dr. Nolan has empowered Esther to understand her motivations, actions, and reactions, but some would argue Esther has at least partly responded to electroconvulsive shock. At least one critic, David Holbrook in Sylvia Plath: Poetry and

The Bell Jar By Sylvia Plath

1511 words - 6 pages On January 14th of 1963, Sylvia Plath had finally completed The Bell Jar after approximately two years of writing. This novel could have been considered a partial autobiography, because the main character Esther Greenwood eerily represents Sylvia Plath. There are a number of references to Plath’s real life throughout the book, too many for it to be considered a mere coincidence. Within the story, Esther Greenwood considers and attempts suicide