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

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

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A notable image that readers of the twentieth-century literature easily recognize is a bell jar. A bell jar is an unbreakable, stiff glass container that confines objects within its inescapable walls. It metaphorically represents the suffocating and an airless enclosure of conformism prevalent during the 1950’s American society. More specifically, American societal standards approve men to have the dominant role as they are encouraged to attend college in order to pursue professional careers. They are given the responsibility of financially supporting their families. In contrast, a women’s life in the 1950’s is centralized around family life and domestic duties only. They are encouraged to remain at home, raise children and care for their husbands. Women are perceived as highly dependent on their husbands and their ability to receive education is regarded as a low priority. Thus, the 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 effects on Esther’s mental stability because she discovers that marriage halts career focus and promotes male dominance. Esther is a young woman who aspires to achieve a high standing in society by becoming a renowned writer. However, her motivation to follow her passion is stifled by the other women prevalent in the society. During her internship for the New York magazine, Esther witnesses:
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...es these primitive standards, she becomes melancholy because she does not attune into the gender roles of women, which particularly focus on marriage, maternity, and domesticity. Like other nineteen year old women, Esther has many goals and ambitions in her life. Nevertheless, Esther is disparaged by society’s blunt roles created for women. Although she experiences a tremendous psychological journey, she is able to liberate herself from society’s suffocating constraints. Esther is an excellent inspiration for women who are also currently battling with society’s degrading stereotypes. She is a persistent woman who perseveres to accomplish more than being a stay at home mother. Thus, Esther is a voice for women who are trying to abolish the airless conformism that is prevalent in 1950’s society.



Works Cited

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

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