In Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women, Esther and Del try to take control of their sexuality and their sexual lives. These two female protagonists attempt to gain sexual confidence by quietly rejecting the societal images of women. They are able to seduce men and pilot their own sexual lives. These women are also able to ignore the popular beliefs about marriage and motherhood, thus freeing them from the traditional, restrictive female sexual roles. By rejecting the popular notions of womanhood, sexuality, and marriage, Esther and Del become the mistresses of their sexuality and sexual lives.
Female sexuality is often equated with physical beauty. In The Bell Jar, the protagonist Esther works for an “intellectual” fashion magazine The Ladies’ Day and receives bonuses such as clothing and make-up kits. These false enhancers of female sexuality only make her feel “very empty” (Plath, 3). To fill the empty void in her sexual wellbeing, Esther stows away these beauty products and privately envies the “stern muscular Russian girl with no make-up” at the U.N. (78). As well, Esther admires Jay Cee, the editor who has brains so that “her plug-ugly looks didn’t seem to matter”(6). Esther sees that once a woman is rid of her make-up, she may appear masculine, but her strength will shift towards useful talents such as simultaneous interpretation, which enhances her true feminine value. Indeed, Esther is insulted when she reads a magazine article which insists: “The boy thinks of the universe, its immensity and mystery; the girl thinks, ‘I must wash my hair’”(177). Esther does not belie...
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...g her successful control over her sexuality.
As Del remarks in Lives of Girls and Women, “There is a change coming I think in the lives of girls and women. Yes. But it is up to us to make it come” (Munro, 173). Del and Esther are women who answer this call to repossess their sexuality and reclaim their sexual lives. They take the initiative to stray from the mainstream definition of femininity, and they learn to make men dance to their tune in the game of sex. Uninterested in the traditional domestic roles of women, Del and Esther reject the institution of marriage and reshape their attitudes towards motherhood. The change is not merely coming; it has already taken root in the psyches of these two women.
Munro, Alice. Lives of Girls and Women. London: Penguin Books, 1982.
Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. London: Faber and Faber, 1966.
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