Sylvia Plath is arguably one of the best feminist writers that ever existed during her time. Having grown up in a society where women’s feelings were shelved and not appreciated, she writes her text The Bell Jar to illustrate the inequalities that were evident in her society between men and women. In the text, she shows how Esther Greenwood attempts to take her own life as a result of the pressure that the society was exerting on women as opposed to men. Sylvia talks about the feminist issues of power, the quest for identity, and the demands of nurturing that rest upon the shoulders of the woman as per the dictations of the society. In The Bell Jar, though the protagonist Esther is depicted as a high achiever, she was not able to fulfill her dreams as she was not accepted for the writing program. As a result, Esther contemplates taking her life to escape from society’s expectations of what women should become (Sylvia 50). With her powerful work, Sylvia touches on the sexual double standards that are expected of the woman. Esther is fascinated by the roles placed by society on women and the attitudes that the community has toward women. The societal expectations of women are that they are natural givers and nurturers whose duty is to give birth and take care of the homes.
Esther feels that the rope tied on women as caregivers is a way by men to control the powers of women. In one of the quotes she says, “I remember Buddy Willard said in a sinister, knowing way that after I had children, I would feel differently wouldn’t want to write poems any more” (69). This statement indicates Esther’s fears of having her own family, which she felt was a form of enslavement and a denial of her power to perform her duties. The text also depicts the challenges that women of the 1950s and 1960s used to face. Plath illustrates this obstacle by using the analogy of the fig tree. In the analogy, Plath states that it is easy for women to make their own choices, but they are faced with the challenge of leading lonely lives. Similarly, if a woman gives her power to the man, she is likely to lose her identity. Unlike the depiction of men in the society who can have it all, women face challenges and are expected to lose it all in pursuit of their dreams.
“Sylvia – Película Completa Traducida Al Español.”. YouTube, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngXxCG1uf2o.
“Youtube”. Youtube.Com, 2019, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmamNSa3sP8.
Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. Sayre Street Books, 2016. Chapters 1-6
Johnson defines patriarchy as a society’s constraint. To Johnson, patriarchy is not only about men, but it is also a society that comprises of people. Thus, he describes patriarchy as a society that promotes male dominance, is male centered, and one that propagates the oppression of women. In his article on male dominance, Johnson shows why men dominate over women in several positions. Be it in the political and socials spheres, it is men who have higher authority over women. Furthermore, he points out the demands that the society places on women.
In addition, Johnson uses power to illustrate how women are reduced to mere spectators while men continue to exercise authority. He looks at male dominance from the perspective that more men compared with women hold positions such as the presidency, CEO, and religious leaders as well. According to Johnson, when women get such positions, questions are abounding on whether they will be able to handle the situations like men do(Sylvia 65). Male dominance, according to Johnson, is as a result of patriarchy. Moreover, patriarchy is a result of the societal standards concerning what roles men and women should perform. As a result, society reduces women into objects who have to depend on men to satisfy their needs. Johnson emphasizes that the result of this perception is usually male dominance in most societies.
Bowden, Peta, and Jane Mummery. Understanding Feminism. Routledge, 2014
Answer 2 (b)
Esther Greenwood frustrations are as a result of the misunderstanding that the society has for women. In the text, Esther complains about the treatment accorded to women compared with their male counterparts. To her, there is a misconception on the issue of equality on both men and women. As per Sylvia, as a woman, Esther experiences first-hand the challenges that women face in the society concerning the issue of power. What comes from the text shows the current politics of feminism that has been a debate over the years. It is the frustrations from the society that nearly make Esther Greenwood commit suicide.
Moreover, Esther believed that the community has a high price tag on women compared with how men are treated (Sylvia 55). For instance, Esther is baffled by how society looks at her sexual status. All through the text, she remains a virgin. In one of her quotes, she says, “When I was nineteen purenesses was a significant issue.” From the statement, it is clear that Esther was brought up to believe that a woman should be a virgin until she gets married. However, her belief was also that the notion also applies to men but she later learns that a lot of emphases was laid only on the women compared with men. Later, she learns that Buddy Willard (her love interest) was not a virgin as he had slept with a couple of women. Esther could not stand the idea of men leading a double life, whereas women had to be conditioned to stay pure till marriage. This revelation leads to her frustration as she realizes how futile it is to find a genuine man.
Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. Sayre Street Books, 2016.
To ascertain whether The Bell Jar is a feminist text or not requires an insightful look into Rosemarie Tong’s introduction in The Diversity of Feminism. Tong’s point of view is that feminism cannot be approached from a monolithic point of view. In her opinion, all feminists do not think the same way. Thus, she points out that feminists can be given different labels depending on how they feel. For instance, she classifies feminists into the categories of Marxist, psychoanalytic, and post-modern feminists. The Bell Jar can be categorized as a feminist text. The text touches on various issues that are reflected in the feminist theory and those that generally affect women. In the text, Esther Greenwood brings to light multiple aspects that are a constraint to women growth in her society.
The text focuses on the issue of how women can lose their control as a result of the cultural impediments that are outlined by society. The book highlights how the problem of power for both men and women shows the disparities that exist on how men and women are treated in society. Esther wonders why it is easy for men to be comfortable in power, whereas women capabilities in managing energy are questioned. Similarly, the text tackles concerns about why it is easy for men to juggle several activities in their lives and still manage, but for women, they have to lose on one end.
Equally, the novel deals with the issue of women’s search for an identity of their own. Women are presented with a dilemma on what to choose in life to maintain a balance in whatever they undertake (Sylvia 88). For the above reasons, The Bell Jar can be categorized as a feminist text. However, it can be classified under the Radical Feminism. This is due to the issues raised in the text, which partly show enlightenment and the need for women to take action and liberate themselves from problems that have oppressed them since time immemorial.
Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. Sayre Street Books, 2016.
Sylvia introduces Joan Gilling at the end of the text to show a comparison in the traumatic lives of both Joan and Esther. Both of the two characters were facing similar experiences especially the urge to seeking self-identity. For Esther, she wondered how there could exist disparities in the treatment of women from their male counterparts. While trying to understand the patriarchal nature of the society she was in, she ends up with frustrations. We also learn that Joan had also been pushed by the same factors that were stressing Esther. The author juxtaposes the two characters to show how they deal with the problems that they encounter. It is clear that both Joan and Esther are victims of attempted suicide and that both need urgent help. However, while Joan fashionably approaches her problems, Esther, on the other hand, takes a sterner approach to her issues that almost hinder her healing process (Sylvia 200). Joan accepts to be counseled emotionally, which makes her healing process a success. Although Esther receives professional help from Dr. Nolan, she still remains a troubled soul when compared with Joan. Thus, the author compares the two characters to bring out the differences in the personality of characters more so in problem solving.
“Sylvia – Película Completa Traducida Al Español.”. YouTube, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngXxCG1uf2o
According to the feminist perspective, the privilege can be defined as the ability of all gender to enjoy equal rights without any inclination toward one gender. Some of the opportunities that feminists have advocated for include equal suffrage rights for both men and women. Even positions and power in society ought to be distributed equally for both men and women.
Both Esther Greenwood and Antoinette Cosway are marginalized in their respective societies. They do not enjoy the privileges that married women ought to enjoy and are also oppressed by the patriarchal societies they live. Antoinette’s identity is distorted by the patriarchal society where she lives. She is affected so much by this that she does not recognize the reflection of her face when she looks herself up in the mirror. Antoinette loses her identity completely. She becomes mad as a result of the oppressive rules she encounters in her marriage as a result of patriarchy. Even when Antoinette tries to win over her husband by seducing him into having sexual intercourse with her, it does not work for her as she remains frustrated. Mr. Rochester, the husband to Antoinette, controls virtually every aspect of her life. He even changes her name to Bertha as a way of curtailing her freedom (Bowden and Jane 100). As a result of the control that Mr. Rochester exerts on his wife, she becomes alienated and disinterested in the affairs of what was happening around her.
On the other hand, Esther Greenwood is also an oppressed woman. First, she suffers under the yokes of a patriarchal society. Esther is disturbed by society’s expectations of how a woman should be and even wonders if the same can apply to men. As a result of the frustrations she encounters, Esther attempts to commit suicide. It is also evident that Esther does not agree with the fact that men can enjoy full privileges in society, whereas women cannot. For instance, when looking at careers, she did not understand how it was only men who could have it all. For a woman, she notes that trying to achieve all meant a possibility of losing. It is therefore evident from the situations mentioned above that both Esther and Antoinette are underprivileged women.
Bowden, Peta, and Jane Mummery. Understanding Feminism. Routledge, 2014.
Antoinette’s narration is different from that of Rochester. Antoinette’s narration points toward the plight of women in a male-dominated society. Consequently, she shows how women have to fall for the manipulation of men especially when she mentions how she ended up marrying Rochester, which she did reluctantly. In the text, it is said that she stood him up in the church during the wedding day. Her description reflects the bitterness that she had always harbored toward her union with Rochester. Through her narrative, we learn that she was reluctant to go for her own wedding. When asked why she had behaved in that manner she said that she was afraid of what might have happened as they had hardly known each other. Similarly, her narration also portrays the character traits of Rochester. She asserts that it was Rochester who convinced her to go on with the wedding with the promise of caring for her. However, all these changes after their marriage as Rochester starts to mistreat her (Rhys 55). Consequently, her narration opens our eyes to the blatant oppression that she was facing in a patriarchal society.
Rhys, Jean. The Wide Sargasso Sea. Hamish Hamilton, 2011
The narration of renaming Antoinette is significant to the underlying themes in the text.As the text advocates for the emancipation of women in male-dominated societies, the renaming signals a change and reawakening of women. It is an indication that the women in the text are ready to take their rightful positions after suffering for long under a patriarchal society. The renaming of Antoinette is an indication of how men treat women as objects. For instance, before Rochester marries her, he treats her in an affectionate and adorable way. However, there are drastic changes when the two get married (Rhys 98). Antoinette is mistreated by her husband who dominates all over her life. However, by being given a new name, Antoinette shows that women still have strong spirits and continue to soldier on despite the challenges. Similarly, it is an indication that women can yield in their bodies, but their enthusiasm and resilience are undeterred. Thus, the change of name indicates a shift in the identity of Antoinette. The change of name for Antoinette shows that she does not have a voice and that her husband’s dominance over her is not yet over.