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"The Bell Jar" is a novel written by Sylvia Plath. She is one of the best novelists in America and portrays a vivid experience of an individual who struggles with suicidal depression. Esther is the main character in this novel and she tells the experience of madness and medical treatments she receives. The novel also describes the inhuman practices of the psychiatric profession at that time. The novel critiques medical treatment as insulin shock therapy and electroconvulsive shock therapy. The health institutions were using to make the patients experience a comma. The psychiatric practice in 1950 was making the conditions of patients worse rather than helping them.
The novel portrays how inhumane madness patients are treated through the story of Esther. Psychiatrist threw Esther into a mental hospital because of a suicide attempt and they did not bother to know her reasons for attempted suicide. Susanna Kaysen explains a similar experience of incarceration in a mental hospital during the late 1960s in her memoir Girl, Interrupted (1993). Kaysen met a psychiatrist whom she had never seen in a single short session and the psychiatrist concluded that she was mad. He was admitted to a mental hospital immediately despite her plea that she was not mad. The doctor promised that she would only spend few weeks in a mental hospital but as days went by her condition worsened. She stayed longer than she expected and she complains that"He [the psychiatrist] tricked me....It was closer to two years" (Kaysen, 39). In response to the psychiatrist's deceitfulness, it is not a surprise that Kaysen uses prison images to describe her time in the hospital. she says, "I was behind bars" (Kaysen, 117).
Authors such as Wilson and Beresford also use crime symbols for their twelve communications with the psychiatric field and they noted that "as a psychiatric patient, it can feel as if everything you say or do is being taken down as evidence against you" (Anne and Beresford, 148). Despite the fact that Kaysen objected that she was not mad no one was ready to listen to him. Both Esther and Kaysen did not deserve to be in mental hospitals because just a single session with a psychiatric who do not know them is not enough evidence that they were suffering from mental disorders. This reason is perhaps the explanation why Esther and Kaysen regarded a mental hospital as a prison rather than a recovery institution. Esther refers to it as confinement because patients have no freedom and if they try to fight against the nurses they are given large doses of insulin to experience comma.
This imprisonment involves two separate mental hospitals. Esther bitterly accepts that she is in a hospital and not in prison despite the fact that he was admitted involuntarily subsequent to her suicide attempt. In these hospitals, one has to control herself and improve her conditions because the doctors and nurses do not care about them. Esther has observed that "the more hopeless you were, the further away they hid you" (Plath, 190). Even after she improves and has been accepted back to her college, "the doctors vetoed [her] living with [her] mother in the interim" (268), forcing her to remain in the asylum until the start of the semester.
Medical institutions in 1950's had negative effects s on their patients. For example, Wendell argues that "there are often hierarchies of power and value in rehabilitative institutions, with those who act most like the non-disabled at the top, and those who have least control of their bodies at the bottom" (Wendell, 61). While Esther was in Caplan, she noted that hospital may have an adverse effect on a patient instead of improving their conditions when a fellow patient was being moved to Wymark. Mr Norris was being hidden in a building for more severe cases because her condition had worsened. The nurse who took her told Esther "I'm afraid Miss Norris isn't moving up like you" (Plath, 232).
The nurses concentrated on comparing the progress of two patients deliberately to distinguish their severity. The nurse is preserving a grading of patients based on severity of condition and progress. Besides, when Esther starts to "improve" she is moved into another building called Belsize, thinking that she will find different procedures in this ward she notices that she is being compared to her fellow patients and her case is the worst. This procedure makes her condition to deteriorate each day. The nurse in Belsize is friendly compared with others from other wards but she treats Esther differently. She jokes, play games, and chats with other patients but display a different altitude to Esther. When she tried to join their conversation, she is reminded of her place in that ward as the most severe patient. The nurse believed that Esther should be in a ward with severe patients "The nurse gave me a straight look, and I could see she thought I had no business in Belsize at all" (Plath, 250).
"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 bind the relationship between the patient and the doctor. It shows how terrific the relationship can be when the system lacks these vital elements. Buddy is a doctor who has no professional ethics. Esther says that he is insensitive, naive and unemotional. Buddy manipulates new mourners into donating the body of their loved ones to medical school. He does not show compassion to the grieving family and only thinks of how the hospital can benefit with the corpse. Buddy does not respect women and wants to sleep with him in the hospital. Esther says "[Buddy] was very proud of his perfect health and was always telling me it was psychosomatic when my sinuses blocked up and I couldn't breathe." (Plath, 84). This shows that he is sexist and does not value the onions or concerns of women. The trouble 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.
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. 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 97). 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.
Another failure of medical practices is wrong medication. Despite the fact that Esther was on medication, her condition did not improve but continued to deteriorate. Esther was being treated with insulin therapy and electroshock therapy. This experience is evocative of the recurrent references to the implementation of the Rosenbergs, which is stated in the first sentence of the text. The only thing that Esther could think of in New York City was the electrocution she was given in hospital. She was worried because it was similar to being "burned alive all along your nerves," convinced "it must be the worst thing in the world" (Plath, 1). Esther's sickness begun to improve when Dr. Nolan started treating her.
The electroshock therapy that were painful for nothing became effective. However, she could not forget the pain and suffering she went through and even Dr. Gordon'sroom for electroshock administration reminded her of a prison cell apparently similar to the Rosenbergs' and she says "the windows in that part were indeed barred, and...everything that opened and shut was fitted with a keyhole so it could be locked up" (Plath, 170). Her past experiences with shock treatments even before her hospitalization painful and horrific. she says "There was a brief silence, like an indrawn breath. Then something bent down and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the world....it shrilled, through an air crackling with blue light, and with each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant. I wondered what terrible thing it was that I had done. (Plath, 171).
Gender discrimination is evident in the novel because 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.
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 of 1950s, an ambitious and talented woman will find no place in that society. The norm is dictatorial. Plath links the themes of sanity and women's self-determination in Esther's steady work on recovering from her emotional health. In Plath's writing, it is difficult for individuals today to recognize different things that were normal back in the 50s. For instance, women were only allowed to get a loan at a bank only if there was a co-signing of husband or a father. Birth control was allowed to married women only. Numerous universities were not also open to unmarried women. In fact, those who went to college were anticipated that they were going to find a spouse and become housewives after college. However, this is not the case with Esther. She was determined and took her college education seriously. Consequently, this did not impress her colleagues in the dorm. They went ahead and detested her by saying that she was only wasting her precious time in college. Hence, those women who lived in Amazon worked hard as secretaries with the purpose of finding a partner.
Wendell, Susan. The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print
Wilson, Anne, and Peter Beresford. "Madness, Distress, and Postmodernity: Putting the Record Straight." Disability/Postmodernity: Embodying Disabi...
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