The Role Of Women In Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar

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Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1971) is a thinly veiled autobiography. Having been riddled by depression herself, Plath has us follow her protagonist Esther’s journey of self-discovery in order to assert her views on the intersection of mental illness and traditional femininity. In the novel, blood serves to mark transitions in Esther’s life. Time after time, blood intersects with largely feminine milestones and the shifts in her mental health as she witnesses births, is sexually exploited, and must confront her own sexuality. Esther struggles to fit in to the narrow feminine role and views the world through a predisposition for depressive thoughts. The “traditional” era in which she exists enforces very binary gender roles and places her purity…show more content…
The woman is given an episiotomy and begins to bleed heavily, and so the connection between birth and blood is created. “I heard the scissors close on the woman’s skin like cloth and the blood began to run down – a fierce, bright red. Then all at once the baby seemed to pop out…” (66). Though Esther isn’t supremely off-put by this gory scene, it does seem to draw the relationship between birth and transformation with blood and pain. The woman in labor is more or less disregarded by her male doctors, and Buddy even goes so far as to say that “the woman was on a drug that would make her forget she’d had any pain and that when she swore and groaned she really didn’t know what she was doing because she was in a kind of twilight sleep” (66). This happenstance is also significant because it represents the lack of empathy that traditional (patriarchal) values hold for the female experience. Later this same chapter, Buddy exposes himself to Esther and she expresses feeling depressed about it, asking him about his virginity immediately afterward. He reveals that he slept with a woman multiple times, and Esther feels that he is a hypocrite. This entire chapter begins a turning point for Esther’s views on traditional womanhood and her position in the gender

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