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The Chains Of Femininity Essay

1250 words - 5 pages

Throughout The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath explores a number of themes, particularly regarding the gender roles, and subsequently, the mental health care system for women. Her 19-year-old protagonist, Esther Greenwood, is the vessel through which Plath poses many probing questions about these topics to the reader. In the 1950’s when the novel was set, women were held to a high standard- to be attractive but pure, intelligent but submissive, and to generally accept the notion of bettering oneself only in order to make life more comfortable for the significant male in her life. Esther not only deals with the typical problems a woman would face in her time, but has to experience those things through ...view middle of the document...

She turns on Doreen after she witnesses what she perceives as Doreen’s whorish, sloppy behavior in the incident with Lenny. Esther even states that “[d]eep down, I would be loyal to Betsey and her innocent friends. It was Betsy I resembled at heart” (22). Earlier in the novel, Doreen and Esther had made fun of Betsey’s wholesome, goody-goody personality, calling her “Pollyanna Cowgirl” (6) behind her back. Even though Esther was originally awed by Doreen’s boldness, she feels naturally compelled to stay true to the clean, innocent lifestyle preferred for women in the 1950’s.
Esther’s judgmental attitude is not just reserved for her peers. She also makes decisions about adults- her superiors and mentors- based upon their physical attractiveness. When Esther first brings up Jay Cee, her boss at the magazine, she describes her as “plug-ugly” (6), and then goes on to describe her accomplishments as if they were much less significant than they really were- simply because she was unattractive by Esther’s standards, she became less valuable of a person. Esther says, “Jay Cee wanted to teach me something, all the old ladies I ever knew wanted to teach me something, but suddenly I didn’t think they had anything to teach me” (6). Despite the fact that Jay Cee is a prominent editor (one of Esther’s desired career paths) and an educated woman with connections and languages under her belt, Esther views herself as superior. Esther’s views towards her young, attractive, psychiatrist, however, are much more positive. When she first meets Dr Nolan, she describes her as “a cross between Myrna Loy and [her] mother” (186) and goes on to detail her trendy outfit, “a white blouse and a full skirt gathered at the waist by a wide leather belt, and stylish, crescent-shaped glasses” (186). Esther finds herself trusting Dr. Nolan, and comes to view her as a mother figure; she becomes the only person that Esther expresses any sort of love for throughout the course of the novel. Both Jay Cee and Dr. Nolan wanted to help Esther, but Esther had an automatic preference for the more attractive of the two. Esther resented the fact that Jay Cee saw herself in Esther, because she feared that meant that becoming successful and intelligent would eliminate her ability to marry an attractive, wealthy man (despite claims that she did not want to marry). She seems to believe that in the qualities of an ideal woman, attractiveness ranks higher than intelligence.
Esther finds herself torn between her artistic, commitment-phobic dreams, and her conformist desire...

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