Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, is the only novel ever written by Plath. This novel is actually semi-autobiographical, being based off of Plath's own life, just with the names of characters changed from real life names. It tells the story of Esther Greenwood, a young woman who recently graduated from college who lands a summer internship at a high-end magazine in New York City. While most girls would be thrilled at going to NYC to intern for a prominent magazine, Esther feels the exact opposite. She feels sad, frightened, and the reader can see that she is showing signs of depression.

Esther does not understand what she is doing with her life anymore now that she is done with school. Her mother wanted her to learn shorthand, but she was against doing any of the stereotypical female jobs like stenography or even being a mother. In the middle of the novel, Esther has a flashback to when her boyfriend, Buddy, asks her to be his wife. She promptly responds, "I'm never going to get married" (93). She refuses to follow the stereotype, mostly because she is afraid of ever becoming pregnant – a fear caused by her depression.

As her mental state begins to worsen, her mother forcefully encourages her to try seeing a psychiatrist. The first psychiatrist Esther goes to is Dr. Gordon, whom Esther does not trust simply because he is a Good looking man; she feels he is not paying attention to her and her problems. Dr. Gordon quickly diagnoses her with a severe mental illness and wants her to go to the hospital. Esther refuses to ever go see Dr. Gordon again.

After a few half-hearted attempts at suicide, Esther decides that she really does not want to live anymore. She goes down into her cellar and swallows an excessive amount of sleeping pills that had been prescribed to her for insomnia. Someone quickly discovers her, saving Esther's life. Esther is then taken to a new female psychiatrist, Dr. Nolan.

Esther is able to spill out all of her fears to Dr. Nolan, from her distrust of males to her fear of pregnancy and motherhood. Her mental state quickly improves with the help of Dr. Nolan. For once in her life, Esther is not worrying about the future and things she cannot control, saying "I had hoped, at my departure, I would feel sure and knowledgeable about everything that lay ahead - after all, I had been 'analyzed.' Instead, all I could see were question marks" (243).

1. This book was written back in the early '60s, when women we often stereotyped to be housewives. As you can see, Esther greatly feared joining that stereotype. Do you believe women today are still not seen as equals to men? If so, are there any examples of this inequality?

2. If you knew someone who was clinically depressed like Esther, what would you do to help them? Do you think forcing Esther to see a psychiatrist was the right thing for her mother to do, or should she have let Esther choose to do this on her own?

29 comments:

Richard B. said...

To answer question one, no I do not believe women are not equals to men. In this day and age, women possess the same rights and career possibilities that men possess. However, this stereotype is not completely dead. Some women in parts of the nation are still raised to believe that's the way of life.

Justin B. 11-12 said...

1) Yes, and to see this one only needs to look at Japan and China. In these countries women are seen as greatly inferior to men. The preference of parents in these nations of having male children is going to become a problem in the near future (30-50 years) for Japan because their population is going to start shrinking relatively rapidly because there will be fewer and fewer females that can have children if this trend continues. Also, in China the "One-Child Policy" that they have there has resulted in people killing their child because it is female and therefore won't be able to provide for them in China. Also, you can look at the wage difference between men and women in the US to find more evidence for remaining inequality.

2) I don't know if there is much you could do to help them. Getting over depression would be about helping themselves. I look at it this way, society may be willing to help you but first you need to want to help yourself and I'm not sure if someone who is depressed would want help. Her mother's decision to make Esther go to a psychiatrist is interesting. On one hand it is clear that Esther would rather die then seek help (suicide attempt) so one could say that it was in her best interests to get her documented as mentally unstable so maybe some precautions could be taken. On the other hand one might say that it hurt her more because she really didn't want to do it at that time and it made her mother, one of the people that wants to help her the most, the "bad guy" in Esther's mind possibly causing Esther to possibly spurn further aid. I believe in this case it was the correct decision because it is clear that Esther was not getting any better/going to die and I don't think her mother should just stand by and watch.

Megan L.11-12 said...

I think there are certain situations in which women are regarded as inferior to men, but those situations are rare, and like Richard said, the women in those situations are brought up into thinking that is the way it should be. Women have the power to attain jobs and schooling as men do, I honestly believe it's up to the woman to take action. Although I obviously believe in womens rights and equality and what not, it's all about working to get it. Obviously a woman can't just "win" an esteemed career position over a man just because she is a woman.

I think situations like that are very tricky. I have been around my share of people with issues, and while some of the psychological issues that I have come across are not as severe as Esther's seem to be, it is still worth the effort of someone to try to help their loved one by getting them treatment. Often, a person with depression or any other mental illness does not believe that he or she needs help, instead he or she believes themselves to be perfectly healthy, it is everybody else who is ill. While forcing Esther to see a male psychiatrist may not have been the best idea, it was a step in the right direction for Esther to get the help she needed.

Liz S.11-12 said...

1. I don't think women are stereotyped anymore today. I think more often men get stereotyped...for example, if a husband and wife have children and decide to get a divorce, the woman will nearly always get the kids. However, my mom works with a man who was born in China and it has brought to my attention that although we have pretty much eliminated problems with discrimination, its a problem that China has thus far failed to recognize.
2. I think that when it comes to people who are struggling with depression, forcing them into therapy could be the only way to save their life.

Eric M. 11-12 said...

Psychiatric help always isn't the right thing for everyone. I would definitely try to help her in any way I could and if I felt she needed specialized help I'd suggest seeing a specialist. I would not force her however because that can often cause someone to feel more unhappy, rather than helping them. Someone has to want help in order to be helped.

Erika B 13-14 said...

While I agree that the inequality between men and women is not as apparent today as it once was, I do believe there are still cases of it out there in the world. One example that frequently comes to mind is what Justin said about the wage difference. According to a recent study, women still earn only 77 cents to the male dollar, not to mention that the number drops to 68 cents for African-American women and 58 cents for Latino women. While progress is being made, this data clearly shows that women, at least in the workforce, are not seen equal to men.

As for depression, I agree with Eric that forcing someone to see a specialist is not always the best idea. While one's heart may be in the right place with wanting the person who is depressed to get treatment, in the end it is them who need to come to the conclusion that they need help. A suggestion is always fine, but forcing someone to do something can often lead to the opposite result you are looking for. It also may help if the person is able to choose who their psychiatrist is, something that Esther was not able to do the first time with Dr. Gordon. If they do not like the specialist they are seeing, no progress will be made.

Kara K. 5/6 said...

1) I believe that men and women are more equal than they used to be. There still is the stereotype of women cooking and cleaning; however, many men do chores too. Some places have more men doing a job than women, but that does not mean they are being treated differently. For example, factories usually have more men working there, but that is because men enjoy those kind of jobs more than women do.
2) I feel it was the right thing to do. If someone is not getting any better and is seeking maybe death, then getting help is the best thing to do. There is not much more you get do to help someone who is depressed besides taking them to many different psychiatrists.

Emily C. 13-14 said...

I think it would be hard to force someone to see a psychiatrist and would be a hard decision. I think that they would not seek help on their own so someone needs to step in and giude them in the right direction, but you also cannot be too pushy in trying to get someone to see a psychiatrist

LeahS11-12 said...

Although women have come very far in the strive to be equals, they are not there yet. In a lot of countries, there are still so many male-dominated cultures that calling women equal, even though they are considered so in many areas of the world, would be incorrect. Not to mention the 77 cent ratio to the male dollar that Erika mentioned earlier. Until we earn equally, work equally, and just altogether LIVE equally, I don't consider men and women "equal".

Megan D. 11-12 said...

I think there are many instances still today in which women are regarded as inferior to men. Richard is correct in saying that many times the women is brought up to feel this way, but it can also be the other way around. Males can also be brought up so that they feel they are somehow superior to their female counterpart. Another instance would be in Asian countries, like Justin mentioned. The does make it more difficult for the female as a male in most cases is seen as necessary to continue the family name and business.

Steve S 13-14 said...

The stereotype of woman inferiority varies CONSIDERABLY throughout the world, for instance in China, Japan, and many Middle Eastern countries, woman are most definitely considered to be inferior. In our country, our society understands that woman are just as smart, capable, etc. as men. As for the second question, there is most definitely a certain point where someone else has to get help for those who are depressed, mentally ill, etc. And this seems like one of those times

Allie H 11-12 said...

Answering question number 1, I think women are still not viewed as equal as men. Yes, they have made extreme steps since the 1960's. But people still look down on women in certain situations. For instance, women are looked down upon when it comes to sports. Yeah, it's true that they may not be able to play football as well as men, but that is what some people just assume. They never give women the chance to change their sterotype.

SeanK56 said...

Everyone knows woman are equal, but paywise it does not show. I've heard companies do not pay woman the same because they assume the husband already makes more and that they will miss significant time with child berth and other things related to the children. But with all of the outrage against it I do no believe it will be the same in the near future.

Jacci L. 11-12 said...

To answer question 1, women ARE seen as equals towards men. Women aren't just expected to stay home and take care of the children, cook, clean and not work. Many women today work and do the same jobs as men. Women are even wrestlers. We can join the military, become president now and the male can cook, clean or stay at home. The lives in households back then compared to today are completely different as well as the roles in the lives of men and women. Yes, there are some households where men believe they are dominant; however, in most households, men and women work together to establish a relationship on equal terms with eachother.

James F (11-12) said...

I agree with Sean, Justin and pretty much everyone on this page who has commented. Women are equal and deserve respect. The stereotype described in question one is the central theme for any "Women's Studies" course, of which I have attended my fair share of. This theme is also the topic of many jokes still circulating around school. For example, one of my fellow classmates likes to refer to women as "sandwich-makers", which means they should stay in the kitchen and make sandwiches, rather than explore the many joys of life. This stereotype will never die unfortunately.

Bojana D 11.12 said...

1. Women today are not seen as equals to men. Social standards have improved but are not completely gone. For example, as others said, the minimum wage dilemma. Its annoying and angers me. But in some instances, such as sports, men are definatly higher paid because they are watched more and worshipped by the American population.

Rachael B MOds 5-6 said...

1. Unfortunately, I think women are still held to the typical "housewife" stereotype. I don't even think it is intentional. In general, women tend to be better at cooking and cleaning and raising children. Although we do take offense to the statement which imply that we females should be spending the majority of our free time locked up and doing chores and making our husbands happy, I think that I can honestly say that we have an instinct and a maternal drive. It isn't something that we can help-it just IS.

2. I think that if I was clinically depressed, I would want to make the first step into getting help. I think the only way that a person can really truly start healing and changing is if they want to. Although most of the time, I don't think a person who is mentally ill will ever want to make this initiation. I think someone who wants to helps should help push and let the person know that they are there to help, although setting them up for things seems to me like it might make an already unstable person agitated and more frustrated with their lives when they feel obligated to do something that they might not have ever wanted to do.

CorinneS5/6 said...

I believe that in most ways women are equal to men in society, they have the same oppourtunities and chances as men do but I also believe that many women think that they are subordiante to men and therefore do not take full advantage of the oppourtunities for success that we have today. If you think you are opressed you most likely will act oppressed.

I think it was the correct move for her mother to send her to get help because it ended up helping in the long run and Esther is now a happier person because of it. If she had not gotten help she may have attepmted suicide again so I believe it is ok to force someone to do that if you have serious concerns about their mental state.

JessieW 11-12 said...

2) I do believe that women are still seen as unequal to men. This can observed in many situations. For one, a lot of women get paid less compared to a man with the same job. In some religions women are supposed to stay home and by a housewife. Even in small jokes men make, like "women belong in the kitchen" show that women are still seen as unequal.

Kristen T. 11-12 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hayley D 11/12 said...

1. I think that women are still not fully regarded at equals to men. I know that things are much better than they were in the past, but I think we could still improve the situation in many ways. Especially by raising our wages so that they are equal; if we work hard we should at least get paid the same as men.
2. Just like so many other people said, I also think that if the conditions were as bad Esther's I honestly believe that someone should intervene. It would probably be a good idea to give them the choice to pick the psychiatrist they would like to go to though, so that they feel like they have some say in the matter.

Kristen T. 11-12 said...

To answer question 2, it is difficult to say what I would do in this situation. Esther is a grown woman and as a mother who sent her daughter off to New York City right after she finished school for an internship, I would trust that she could make mature and intelligent decisions. Unfortunately, it seems that Esther quickly spiraled downwards and at this point I would definitely have sent her to a doctor in fear that her life may be in danger (which it clearly was). When children grow up and move out I feel that there are certain boundaries that parents shouldn't cross, but in a psychological situation like this, parental help and support is neccessary.

Betsy C 1314 said...

To answer the second question, I would do everything that I could in order to get the person help. It seems like the mom did what she thought was best, and even though the first psychiatrist turned out to be worse for the problem, she would likely not have been able to overcome the problem by herself.

Dana D 11-12 said...

2. I think that forcing people to do something such as going to a psychiatrist is a bad idea. Its a good suggestion but it shouldn't be an order. When you force people to do something it often makes them reject the concept. If they don't want to cooperate it will never be successful.

Hannah L 13-14 said...

1) I definitley think that women are still not treated as equals. Although they made be said in a joking tone, males often make comments about how women should be in the kitchen and that that's all we're good for. Often times, women are payed less than men and they are definitley not as respected, even in the workplace. It is more likely that someone would do something if a man told them to do it, than a woman.

Megan D. 11-12 said...

I, like Leah, know people who have depression or who have other mental illnesses. It is exceedingly hard for everyone involved; I for one always feel conflicted and upset around them because I do not know how to help them. I do think, though, that one must try to help them. Some see depression as a weakness that can only be remedied by the one in question, but a lot of times those people need some outside help. We all need outside help from time to time; its impossible to shoulder all your regrets, problems, fears, and other emotions all by yourself without suffering some kind of consequence. I feel depression is the same, that it should not have to be the depressed persons burden alone. Forcing Esther to see a psychiatrist might not have been the answer, but something had to be done.

Kenneth C.M. 13-14 said...

I also do not believe that women are seen as equal to men today. In America it sure is better than it used to be but it has not been that long of time since women have gained their rights and it'll take a few more generations to let it completely take affect in my opinion.

KatherineS13-14 said...

1) In most aspects, women are seen and are equal to men. However, in some areas women are still seen as inferior to men. So, to answer the question, I say yes, but also no. In America, legally, women are equal to men, but in some social aspects, they are not seen as equals. If a man is in charge and is a strong leader, he is seen as a good leader. If a woman is in charge and is a strong leader, she is often seen as a...witch. These differences hold women back from being placed in higher work positions.

Mrs. Sherwood said...

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