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The novel "Bell Jar" is one of the most read novels across the world. In the book, Sylvia Plath offers a comprehensive exposition of various thematic issues that mirror multiple practices experienced in the society today. One of the essential themes addressed by Plath is the medical practices of the 1950s. Regarding this theme, the Bell Jar takes a critical observation of the medical profession in the 1950s, with the specific emphasis on the psychiatric medicine. Several critics view the Bell Jar novel as a symbol of society's stifling constraints and bewildering information that set-up Sylvia Plath's heroin and Esther Greenwood within its dome. Esther's perspective provides a filter through which the reader understands the plot of the story. This paper will therefore offer the analysis of the theme of medical practices in 1950 as portrayed in the Bell Jar.
The Bell Jar demonstrates a medical system that is not well developed in terms of the institution of the appropriate code of ethics and guidelines that binds the relationship between the patient and the doctor. It shows how terrific the relationship can be when the system lacks these vital elements. A clear illustration of this can be observed in various scenes in the novel. Following Buddy's medical school, one of the physical suffocation that the bell jar induced was a direct depiction of Esther's mental suffocation by the inevitable setting of depression upon her psyche (Plath). For instance, the troubles that Esther encountered was as a result of doctor's arrogance as well as their lack of sympathy for the pain that a woman undergoes while in labor. The situation dramatically changes the way in which the entire novel can be perceived. Path portrays Dr. Gordon as an individual who is self-satisfied and unsympathetic and who tremendously contributes to some of the challenges that Esther goes through.
The failure of numerous medical treatments in the 1950s medical practices is portrayed in theme. These are kind of medical treatments that were incapable of curing or even assisting the patients (Tsank 171). Following Esther's experience, she received several treatments some of which were helpful while others were not. While still in the hospital, she met Dr. Gordon, who was unsympathetic and arrogant, who gave her wrong, traumatic and unhelpful prescription (Plath). After going through all these, Esther finally met with Dr. Nolan who helped to solver her psychiatrist problem. According to Plath, Dr. Nolan, who is a female psychiatrist, was to use three methods of treating patients with psychiatrist problem. They include insulin injections, talk therapy, and the electroshock therapy. Even though Dr. Gordon used these methods with failure to address the patient, Dr. Nolan used these methods correctly and efficiently. It is through Dr. Nolan that Esther was able to receive insulin which is reported to have side effects of gaining more weight before producing the desired results. The novel is outlined regarding psychological disorder of Esther and her lopsided perception of the world around her rather than primarily ascribing symbolic meaning to the author's use of objects, language and trying to understand the inner turmoil of Esther through the chaos outside world.
The critical analysis primarily links 1950's methods of psychiatric care and their role in The Bell Jar, to societal issues and trends in the era (Beck 34). With a specific emphasis, Path reveals social criticism as presented by Dr. Gordon. In fact, he represents the suburban psychiatrist who fails to adjust in applying shock treatment. Although Doctor Gordon's detrimental patriarchy character makes him worth criticism, Plath equivalents Esther's treatment to the Rosenbergs' electrocution. The novel's medical practices thus represent insufficient social practices (Plath). As such, the majority of critics are capable of overlooking the implications of Esther's psychological depression as well as what implies for the evolution and structure of the novel itself. Hence, the manner in which the novel simply depicts a depression, as well as the way narrative's constructs Esther's mental effect depends mainly on the fact that, it is just as pertinent understanding as that which maintains a lens of social criticism. For instance, reflecting on The Bell Jar, Pat Macpherson interprets Plath's novel through a lens of social criticism (Tsank 169). As a result, Esther's attempt to commit suicide becomes an act of revenge against suburbs as well as her eventual discharge from the hospital (Plath). Finally Esther regards suburbia as a prison.
Determination and self-confidence to overcome the societal challenges experienced in 1950s is depicted as a major issue linked to 1950s medicine. Undeniably, the novel depicts that Esther's perfectionism made her possess high morals in not only her writing, ability to win contests and scholarships, work ethic but also acute conceit about her knowledge of pinning down feelings, situations and people. Eventually, depression makes her freshness of vision turn against her (Reid, 57). For instance, she finds it difficult to continue writing, and her capability of characterizing the world through her innovative lens begins to vanish. Finally, Esther was rejected from Harvard writing program something which makes her submit to her suicidal inclinations (Reid, 57). Marjorie Perloff described Esther's depression as her human inability of coping with the unliveable situation. As a result of the inadequacy of suitable support system and a persistent underlying battle against Esther's perfectionism, he turns her failures into self-rebuffs. According to Beck, there is a possibility of depression-prone person to allocate the basis of a contrary event to some shortcomings in himself. For this reason, while in the midst of Esther's batch of cascading failures, she came to realize that she was unqualified after a keen observation of her mother's college requirements. With the immediate effect, Esther turns the situation negative upon herself. In reality, her new university's curriculum to match that of City College nearby.
The relationship between medicine and depression is portrayed through this theme. There exist two common and distinct causes of depression that affects Esther (Reid 45). One of them is that the depressed person is likely to grieve from specific states in life such as loss of the parent. From the novel, Esther precisely depicts this by profoundly mentioning her father three times throughout the novel and finally finds herself kneeling at her father's tombstone. The other cause that Beck wrote was that depression-prone persons spend their childhood time in setting for themselves perfect and rigid goals which make their world to collapse when they confront inevitable disappointments later in life. Esther's depression manifests itself when she tries to become imperceptible by sneaking from her surroundings (Evans, 76). It is through this that Esther started showing signs of mental instability. Plath implied that there was outside force of work that inhabited and hollowed out Esther, this prevented her from functioning and living usually. Nonetheless, Plath credits Dr. Nolan as a savior, and the only admirable woman in the novel (Plath). She lastly enabled Esther to find her true self. Dr. Nolan helps Esther's progress to recovery, and this makes her able to forge a new identity.
Madness and mental illness is a theme often explored in the literature. Esther's instant response was to criticize what she believed that her fault was to be instead of assessing the problem rationally. The rapid shift of Esther's mental process revealed that her psychological state was not stable. At the beginning of the novel, it is clear that Esther had changed her life from that of suburban to the metropolitan one (Tsank 168). The change made her mentally unstable. Because of her indecisiveness, Esther substantiated that could not cope up with instability options. The stress and move she encountered as a result of her internship also contributed significantly to her instability. Her mental instability was further untangled when she was almost date raped because the victim of date rape could not file a complaint. The victim ended up suffering whereas feeling helplessness (Plath). The additional frustrations that Esther received from being rejected for a writing course also added to her feeling of helplessness and failure. All these contributed to her degrading mental health to the extent that she can no longer enjoy life.
In the novel, the bell jar, the theme of madness is of great concern because of patient's gender isolation. In fact, all pictures of insanity in the novel are of women. As such, women have been placed in a dysfunctional role which has no status in the society. Most women set in this role often go crazy since it segregates them and provides no pay. Additionally, it creates a vast division between women and their spouses as far as interests and education are concerned. However, Esther has not been placed in this role however hard everyone in the society is trying to push her into it. It is evident that even in the private hospital she does not fit with the other women because she thinks differently as an intellectual. In fact, as the other women are worried about their unfaithful husbands, Esther is concerned with getting the education about birth control methods. Luck enough, she finds a feminist psychiatrist in Dr. Nolan who fosters Esther, and aids her to get birth control.
After Beck's intense observation, he perceived that self-criticism is found in many depressed patients and are perilous of particular aspect that they formerly valued highly. From the novel, this phenomenon is apparently brought out in Esther's suffering (Beck 56). As such, she is troubled by her incapability of excelling at the things that she once valued most. Beck also states that early traumatic experiences cause the depressed individual to exaggerate future losses later in future. Though Esther was positively affected by the treatment, she felt at peace, and this remained the most crucial factor in her mental illness and recovery (Plath). However, Joan, a friend who met with Esther at Buddy with the same difficulty, ended up committing suicide.
Female sexuality is also another theme that the novel portrays. It is evident that various problems Esther encounters are contrasting views of female sexuality. Throughout the novel, she is preoccupied with her virginity. Her stances at sexually permissive women, such as Doreen as objects of attraction. However, these women believe that there are some secrets of life that they have which Esther lacks (Plath). In the Bell Jar, Plath relates female sexuality to a sense of empowerment, and this serves as a critical aspect of Esther's recovery to more excellent mental health. On the other hand, the independent forms of sexuality that are shown by Esther are contrasted with more dependent and conventional methods (Plath). Finally, Plath celebrates Esther's decision of finding a man herself rather than submitting herself to the demands of Buddy Willard with the objective of getting sexual satisfaction. Conclusion
Plath skillfully connects the theme of mental health and feminism in her novel. In The Bell Jar, women's role is restricted in the society, and they live as if they are in a Bell Jar. Although they are capable of seeing the world outside with self-determined men and exciting work, they cannot live it. Individuals suffering from emotional ailment also live as if they are under a bell jar. They are isolated from others and not capable of escaping the distortions of their view of the world. The novel focuses on the crazy-making society of its protagonist. For instance, in the community...
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