Literature is the superlative resource when one is attempting to comprehend or fathom how society has transformed over the centuries. Many written works—whether fictional or nonfictional—express the views of gender roles and societies’ expectations. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is an exemplary novel that explores these issues. Ester Greenwood was portrayed the superficial and oppressive values of the mid-twentieth century American society through her experiences of gender inequalities and social conformities. Plath’s own life was correspondingly mirrored in this novel; which in turn left the reader aware of the issues in her time period. At the conclusion of The Bell Jar, the audience realizes that she was pushed to completely conform to society.
During the nineteenth century, gender roles were outrageously strict. Linda Brannon, a Doctorate Professor of Psychology at McNeese State University, states “a gender stereotype consists of beliefs about the psychological traits and characteristics
of, as well as the activities appropriate to, men or women” (160). These stereotypes were supposed to be adhered to sternly. Obviously, the stereotypes for men and women were polar opposites. This patriarchal society viewed the male as the head of the household. They were expected to be the workers in the family. Men were expected to be powerful, brave, worldly, rational, independent, and sexual.
Joletha Cobb, a minister and an NCCA licensed clinical pastoral counselor, explained the expectations of genders in accordance with past centuries with an emphasis on the bible. Women “were expected to bear children, stay home, cook and clean, and take care of the children” (Cobb 29). They were expected to be weak, timid, domestic, emotional,...
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...her writing career.
The Bell Jar was an exceptional novel that can be used to view the ideas of gender roles. Ester, who despised marriage and focused on education, went through multiple events that pushed her to subvert and conform to society’s expectations. Women’s literature—such as this work—of the nineteenth century provided confirmation of society’s emphasis on “The Cult of Womanhood and Domesticity”. Plath’s life mirrors Ester’s and ultimately brought awareness to the oppression of women.
Brannon, Linda. Gender: Psychological Perspectives. 4th ed. Boston: Pearson/Allyn And Bacon, 2005. Print.
Cobb, Joletha. Women: Who You Are in Christ. Durham: Joletha Cobb, 2006. Print.
Hogeland, Ronald W. Women and Womanhood in America. Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath, 1973. Print.
Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York: Harperperennial, 2006. Print.
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