Esther's Liberation in Sylvia Plath's Bell Jar

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Esther's Liberation in The Bell Jar

On the surface The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is a loosely based autobiographical account of a young woman's search for identity that is eventually found through mental breakdown. Because Esther Greenwood's aspirations are smothered by traditional female roles, she must find herself through purging her mind of these restraints.

Upon closer inspection, Esther plight is representative of her contemporaries and even of many women today who "over and over...(have) heard in voices of tradition and of Freudian sophistication that they could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity" (Friedan, 461). It is with this notion that Esther and others like her wrestled with: "if a woman had a problem in the 1950's and 1960's she knew that something must be wrong with her marriage, or with herself" (464). This was coined the "housewife's syndrome" by a Cleveland doctor who first noticed this trend among young housewives. But for those like Esther- young, single, and educated- the problem is that society does not readily give them any more career options other than wife/mother or secretary. Because of this, the Women's Liberation movement begins, but only after Esther and her peers become Liberated Women.

The road to liberation is bumpy and sparked with electroshock treatments for Esther and others like her. Therapy is prevalent, whether it is weekly trips to a psychologist or lengthy stays in a mental institution. The end result of the treatment for many is a feeling of independence. As one woman states,

"It helped me develop a sense of self-worth and come to the understanding that I wasn't a bad person or worthless. My experience in therapy helped me have a better image of myself and I even started to look better and dress in a more attractive way. In short, I had more confidence in myself" (Susan, 489).

For Esther, leaving therapy is like being born again (199). She is now truly a free woman, after all.

Before Esther is liberated, however, she denounces her oppressors, Buddy Willard and her mother. Both are representatives of the male controlled society: Mrs. Greenwood of stifling women's aspirations and keeping women in their traditional roles, and Buddy of sexual purity.

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