Esther’s Role Models in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar

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Esther’s Role Models in The Bell Jar

Throughout Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood has trouble deciding who she wants to be. Her search for an identity leads her to look at her female role models. These women are not ideal in her eyes. Although they represent a part of what she herself wants to be, Esther finds it impossible to decide which one she is to become. Jay Cee, Mrs. Willard, Philomena Guinea, her mother and Doctor Nolan all act as role models for Esther Greenwood. The ways in which these women are portrayed reveals a lot about Esther's perspectives on identity and her search for an identity of her own.

Jay Cee, Mrs. Willard, and Philomena Guinea are characterized as archetypes and therefore very limiting. Jay Cee is portrayed as hyper, abrupt and she speaks, "waspishly" (29). She is smart and talented but she is ugly. Philomena Guinea, on the other hand, says that she was stupid at college and is always described as being surrounded by beautiful things. The beauty that Esther sees as the binary opposite of ugly seems to have been acquired through her "millions and millions of dollars" (38). Jay Cee has "brains, so her plug-ugly looks [don't] seem to matter" (5). But, Philomena has money so nothing else matters. Mrs. Willard is portrayed as the ultimate wife and mother. We are given the impression that Mrs. Willard embodies sensibility. She is what every little girl is supposed to grow up to be. But Esther sees differently. Mrs. Willard represents the inevitable outcome of marriage and motherhood - to flatten out under the husband's foot like a kitchen mat (80).

The way the women are described brings to light the kind of relationship she had with them. For example, Esther doesn'...

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...eking out her own identity.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Brennan, Sheila M. "Popular Images of American Women in the 1950’s." Women's Rights Law Reporter 14 (1992): 41-67.

Bronfen, Elizabeth. Sylvia Plath. Writers and Their Work. Plymouth, UK: Northcote, 1998.

Evans, Sara M. Role Models of Women in America. New York: Free-Simon, 1989.

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. Twentieth Anniversary Edition. 1963. New York: Norton, 1983.

Nizer, Louis. The Implosion Conspiracy. New York: Doubelday, 1973.

Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. 1963. London: Faber, 1966.

Radosh, Ronald, and Joyce Milton, eds. The Rosenberg File: A Search for the Truth. 1983. New Haven: Yale UP, 1997.

Stevenson, Anne. Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath. London: Viking-Penguin, 1989.

Wagner-Martin, Linda. Sylvia Plath: A Biography. New York: Simon, 1987.
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