The Bell Jar1963Sylvia PlathMadness in Literature and Film
Lecture overview•The opening paragraph: key themes•The problem that has no name: postwar women•Madness and the madhouse•Constructing madness: Laing, Sartre, Kristeva•Esther’s suicide narrative
The Bell Jar: opening paragraph:‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. I’m stupid about executions. The idea of being electrocuted makes me sick, and that’s all there was to read about in the papers – goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway. It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive along your nerves’.
Themes •Death/execution: Esther views her own death in these terms – constructed, not natural death•The abject: visceral reaction that things that repulse or inspire fear/mortal dread•Goggle-eyed: implies viewing of spectacle •A clear sense of period and political context: 1953•Rosenbergs were only Americans to be executed as Soviet spies; •postwar America; fear of communist conspiracy
The problem that has no namePostwar women
What is the cause of Esther’s angst?•Restrictive nature of women’s position in post second world war American society•Sexual inequalityThe Bell Jar: dramatizes the patriarchal ideologies that underpin 1950’s American society and their affect on the female psyche.- Feminist backlash
Restrictive nature of women’s position in post second world war American societyBetty Friedan The Feminine Mystique, 1963 •For some, this book heralded the start of the second wave of feminism.•Based on Friedan’s surveys of women in 1957. Conclusion: many women are unhappy as housewives.
Second Wave Feminism: a overview•1960s to the early 1980s •A broad movement that addressed a wide range of issues, including:•legal inequalities based on gender, •women in the workplace – ‘the glass ceiling’, •sexuality and reproductive rights, •the perception of women and their role in society.
What is the ‘feminine mystique’?•The false notion that a woman’s ‘natural’ role is to be a housewife and mother.•A socially constructed notion of femininity that says that to have a career (configured as masculine) conflicts with a woman’s rightful role as homemaker.
Shoshona Felman, Writing and Madness, 2003‘From her initial family upbringing throughout her subsequent development, the