The Bell Jar, By Sylvia Plath Essay

The Bell Jar, By Sylvia Plath Essay

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In Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, gender roles are presented as barriers that stop female characters from reaching their full potential and from being in control of their own lives. The novel relates to the Feminist Phase of Second Wave Feminism which is focused on the oppression of women and the roles of women within a society.

It could be argued that Esther’s descent into mental illness was triggered by the oppressive situation she finds herself in when her date attempts to rape her. During a dance she realises, “It doesn’t take two to dance, it only takes one,” which suggests that a man is in complete control of her life, therefore women are subjugated and oppressed by men because they have very little freedom or choice. The use of the word “dance” juxtaposes the thoughts and emotions of Esther at this point in the novel since dancing is seen as a metaphor for happiness and freedom.
Furthermore,“Marco gripped my hand in such a way I had to choose between following him on to the floor or having my arm torn off.” It is clear to the reader that Plath is implying that women have only two choices - follow a man or get hurt as a consequence of not obeying. The Bell Jar was written in 1963, so women in society were expected to allow men to ‘lead’ them, so men could be more controlling and dominant and could therefore make decisions for women. This could imply that even though women find happiness in dancing, it is tainted by the fact that a man is always leading and therefore aggressively attempting to take complete control of a woman’s happiness and freedom, as Marco did within his treatment of Esther.

Moreover, the attempted rape acts as a turning point for Esther in which she becomes conscious of the fact that “If I just lie her...


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...s face.” This contradicts Esther’s views that women are being “brainwashed.” Dodo is happy in her traditional role in staying at home and raising her children. Plath could have included this character to suggest to women that they could be happy being a housewife but that should not be their only option should and they can choose another lifestyle if they wish to do so.

To conclude, gender roles and stereotypes are largely responsible for the oppression of women in The Bell Jar, since they ultimately cause Esther’s downward spiral into depression through alienation from society. Plath wrote The Bell Jar to make the point that gender stereotypes can seriously affect many women and will cause issues for women who cannot fit into the roles and stereotypes assigned to them which can be damaging for society. Women can feel oppressed by the expectations placed upon them.

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