Women In The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath

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The portrayal of young women as a social group in The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar serves as an accurate representation of young, middle-class women in the 1950s and their symbolic revolt against the male-dominated world they live in as they strive for individuality. Plath portrays the main protagonist Esther Greenwood as a non- conformist whose extreme psychological reactions to society show the extent of the pressure placed upon them. As a semi- autobiographical novel, Plath’s own opinions are reflected by Esther’s.
From the beginning of the book it becomes apparent that Esther’s personality is different from what would normally be expected of a woman the same age and social class. She says ‘I was supposed to be the
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Doreen, one of the other women whom Esther worked with in New York showed similarities with Esther in terms of her ability to see through the hypocrisies of society, however she approached these matters in a very different way. Instead of contradicting social norms and conventions by pursuing knowledge and success like Esther, Doreen manages to always see the lighter side of their situation and strives to enjoy herself as much as possible. She also had a very relaxed attitude towards sex, which made her a sort ‘poster girl’ for the early days of the sexual revolution.
The effects of the sexual revolution in the 1950’s on girls are clearly visible in Doreen and Esther. Had the book taken place a decade or so ago, the idea of Esther pursuing to lose her virginity before marriage wouldn’t have even entered her head. Doreen could have been partially responsible for this, because her relaxed attitude towards sex is part of her rebellious nature that Esther aspires to
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Her only job, that she was forced to get after her husband died, was secretarial. Esther’s mother states that "What a man wants is a mate and what a woman wants is infinity security," and, "What a man is is an arrow into the future and what a woman is is the place the arrow shoots off from" (p67). Esther obviously opposed this opinion, and rejects it by thinking: ‘The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.’ (79)
Had the book been written by another author and been narrated by someone other than Esther, someone who could identify with the social conventions at the time like Esther’s mother, Esther’s actions and those of the other young girls around her would have been portrayed completely differently. Plath gives the reader the impression that their behaviour, especially sexually-related is a justifiable reaction to society’s
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