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The Bell Jar was first published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, and later published under Plaths real name. My heroine would be myself, only in disguise.

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Presentation on theme: "The Bell Jar was first published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, and later published under Plaths real name. My heroine would be myself, only in disguise."— Presentation transcript:


2 The Bell Jar was first published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, and later published under Plaths real name. My heroine would be myself, only in disguise. She would be called Elaine. Elaine. I counted the letters on my fingers. There were six letters in Esther too. It seemed a lucky thing. S-Y-L-V-I-A.

3 The Bell Jar is often read as a text about: Womens issues at a given historical moment ( The Awakening, The Yellow Wallpaper). Sexuality and society ( The Scarlet Letter, Song of Myself, The Awakening, Passing ). Constriction and confinement (Bartleby, The Yellow Wallpaper). The womans body ( The Scarlet Letter, The Awakening, The Yellow Wallpaper, Passing, As I Lay Dying ). Sanity and Insanity (Bartleby, As I Lay Dying, Miss Lonelyhearts ). Writing and Texts (The Custom House, The Yellow Wallpaper, Miss Lonelyhearts ). Identity (See All).

4 Though published in 1963, the novel depicts the 1950s. The 1950s: During World War II women had been mobilized for the work effort, but in the period following the war there was a forced return to earlier established gender roles, a move many women found confining.

5 The text arguably functions both as autobiography and as bildungsroman. Autobiography falls into roughly four categories: thematic, religious, intellectual, and fictionalized. The text is quite arguably a form of fictionalized autobiography much like Joyces The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Bildungsroman, literally novel of formation, is a class of novel that deals with the formative years of the main character. Again, like The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the text concerns the set of experiences which are formative for the young artist.

6 Given that this is arguably a work of fictionalized autobiography, it helps to know something about Plaths life. Born in 1932 in Massachusetts, near Boston Her brother was born when she was three, and she was jealous of the attention paid him Her father died when she was eight years old, and this event shaped much of her later life She began writing poetry at an early age, and quickly became a talented and disciplined writer She entered Smith College in 1950

7 Continued… In 1952 she won Mademoiselle magazines College Board Contest and was awarded an internship. In 1953 (the year the Rosenbergs were electrocuted), she attempted suicide and was institutionalized and given ECT. She later returned to Smith, graduating summa cum laude and winning a Fullbright. She studied in England where she met and married the poet Ted Hughes, with whom she had two children.

8 Continued… She continued to struggle with mental illness and thoughts of suicide, all the while writing and publishing poetry and fiction. She committed suicide in February, 1963, one month after the publication of The Bell Jar.

9 The use of bottles and jars. The use of black and white. Employment of mirrors, doubles. References to flowering and growth. Symbols of imprisonment and death. Electricity/electrocution/electro-shock therapy.

10 Sustained consideration of a womans relationship to her sexuality. Interpersonal relationships between women. Womens issues in the 1950s. The instability of gendered identity. Intersections of gender and class.

11 Plath has been variously diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective psychotic disorder with predominantly depressive features. The Bell Jar itself offers an implicit critique of psychiatric practice. The text raises issues surrounding the intersection of literature and medicine, as well as questions of creativity and mental illness. However, questions of existential anxiety should not be overlooked.

12 Consider the decision to initiate the text with the Rosenbergs, particularly given the climate of the 1950s (McCarthyism, etc.). Consider also the relatively constant references to hypocrisy in its various forms. Critique of constraints based on gender, questions of sexuality and sexual identity, critique of the treatment of mental illness, etc.

13 10.29: Pose a question concerning the texts treatment of gender or sexuality (Fredericka, Robert) 10.30: Pose a question concerning the intersection of literature and psychiatry in the text (Cara, Alex M.)

14 To what extent should we read this novel as autobiography? How does this complicate or change our reading of the text? Do we ask different questions of autobiography than we ask of fiction? Do they serve different purposes?

15 In a novel constructed around a first-person narrative, our relationship with the protagonist is particularly important. What sort of relationship does Plath set up for us early in the text? Does this relationship change/develop? How reliable a narrator is Esther?

16 Consider the use of symbols in the text. What do we make of the references to electrocution in the first words of the text? What about the symbol of the bell jar? The fig tree? The mercury? The use of color?

17 What is Esthers relationship with sex and sexuality? Consider the implications of Esthers interactions with Marco. How is this instance of near-rape treated by the text? What should we make of this treatment? Consider as well the situation surrounding the loss of Esthers virginity.

18 What is the pattern of development traced by the text? If this is indeed a coming of age novel, what development has occurred? What has been learned? What trappings of childhood left behind? Is there significance in the fact that we end with chapter 20 and Esthers 20 th birthday? How does rebirth figure in the novel?

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