Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar' depicts the mental-breakdown of a privileged and educated young woman in 1950s American society. To this day, the literary merit of the novel remains a topic of intense debate. The majority of critics seem to take the stance that its overall worth lies in the autobiographical nature of the novel, the implicit feminist undertones, or, merely in the subject matter itself. Thus, much of the debate surrounding the merit of 'The Bell Jar' centers on how the novel should be read and, whether or not the novel is worth reading at all. Many critics argue that, because Plath's strengths lie in poetry and creating vivid images, her novel lacks certain stylistic elements of literature and is written more like poetry than prose. I would like to argue, however, that it is precisely Plath's use of poetic language and imagery that is able to alter the reader's previous conceptions of madness. Plath's novel succeeds in creating an account of madness with a kind beatific innocence that urges both sympathy and understanding on the part of the reader. Thus, I plan to present an account of how Plath is able to - through the manipulation of language, structure, and style - alter the reader's previous conceptions of madness by rendering it both more alluring and comprehensible. I plan to demonstrate why Plath's 'The Bell Jar' should be celebrated for more than its autobiographical content or inherent subject matter but, rather, because of Plath's uncanny ability to - through the manipulation of language, structure, and style present a demystified account of madness that forces the reader to question what it means to be mad.
[...] In creating such a character, Plath forces the reader to question the very nature of madness in a seemingly dehumanizing society, which, in turn, demonstrates the fine line that separates madness from sanity. Works Cited Axelrod, Steven. "Sylvia Plath." The Literary Encyclopedia. University of California Riverside Bonds, Diane S. "The Separative Self in Sylvia Plathâ€™s The Bell Jar." Women's Studies 18 (1990): 49-64. Foucault, Michel. "What is an Author." The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault's Thought. By Paul Rabinow. [...]
[...] In support of this thesis, it is important to note that The Bell Jar was originally published under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas. Only after Plath's death did the novel become known as Sylvia Plath's work. Linda Wagner-Martin, in Sylvia Plath: The Critical Heritage, notes the striking contrast between the reviews of Victoria Lucas's novel and Sylvia Plath's. She notes that, prior to the knowledge of Plath's authorship, the work “stood on its own completely unknown feet, and yet, was favorably reviewed” (Wagner-Martin, 1). [...]
[...] The figurative language surrounding the feelings depicted in The Bell Jar is so forceful that Plath is able to capture near inexpressible states of mind, in the form of stunning mental images of the senses or sensory experiences. In discussing the methods behind Plath's poetic craftsmanship, Hughes asserts that her method was to “collect a heap of vivid objects and good words and make a pattern that would be projected from somewhere deep inside”, he describes her method as almost “painterly” (Hughes, 95). [...]
[...] Plath's shift in Esther's tone when describing the external world elucidates another effective technique used to render a more comprehensible account of madness and what it means to be mad. In her observations of the world around her, Plath's persona depicts a world of characters that are dehumanized and flat. This sets up striking contrasts between the narrative (Esther) and the existence of others. The other characters in the novel seem to only exist as a contrast to Esther, thus suggesting that they lack any fundamental qualities that would distinguish them from a stereotyped other. [...]
[...] However, it seems to be precisely this representation of Esther's descent into madness a representation that is effectively able to portray her descent in such a way that coincides with the universal concerns of others that makes the novel so endearing. Plath is able to express the inner workings of a woman's” mind in an understandable manner, which ignites sympathy and compassion on the part of the reader. Nonetheless, Plath's novel still stands as a target for further criticism surrounding the value of her writing. [...]
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