Literature is the superlative resource when one is attempting to comprehend or fathom how society has transformed over the centuries. Many written works—whether fictional or nonfictional—express the views of gender roles and societies’ expectations. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is an exemplary novel that explores these issues. Ester Greenwood was portrayed the superficial and oppressive values of the mid-twentieth century American society through her experiences of gender inequalities and social conformities. Plath’s own life was correspondingly mirrored in this novel; which in turn left the reader aware of the issues in her time period. At the conclusion of The Bell Jar, the audience realizes that she was pushed to completely conform to society.
During the nineteenth century, gender roles were outrageously strict. Linda Brannon, a Doctorate Professor of Psychology at McNeese State University, states “a gender stereotype consists of beliefs about the psychological traits and characteristics
of, as well as the activities appropriate to, men or women” (160). These stereotypes were supposed to be adhered to sternly. Obviously, the stereotypes for men and women were polar opposites. This patriarchal society viewed the male as the head of the household. They were expected to be the workers in the family. Men were expected to be powerful, brave, worldly, rational, independent, and sexual.
Joletha Cobb, a minister and an NCCA licensed clinical pastoral counselor, explained the expectations of genders in accordance with past centuries with an emphasis on the bible. Women “were expected to bear children, stay home, cook and clean, and take care of the children” (Cobb 29). They were expected to be weak, timid, domestic, emotional, dependent, and pure. Women were taught to be physically and emotionally inferior in addition morally superior to men. During this time, women were ostracized for expressing characteristics and wants that contradicted those ideals. For women, the areas of influence are home and children, whereas men’s sphere includes work and the outside world” (Brannon 161). “The Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood” clearly expressed society’s expectations in reference to women. It states that 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 failed she had a perfect A. She stated even though “physics made me sick the whole time I learned it” (Plath 35). She out-smarted all the other girls in her school. She was even able to get out of a Chemistry class by writing a petition saying she would go to class five times a week, take notes, but...