The Bell Jar

Tragic Qualities in Sylvia Plath's "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams" College

Considered to be blueprint for the mechanics of tragedy, Aristotle’s Poetics revolves around the assumption that great works of tragedy must include a generous number of mimetic elements, or elements which readily imitate human life. In addition, well-organized tragic plots combine both reversal of fate (peripeteia) and personal recognition (anagnorisis) that largely result from a character’s tragic flaw (hamartia). In relation to Aristotle’s proposed framework for tragedy, Sylvia Plath’s short story “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” unintentionally recreates a tragic plot through the life and actions of the story’s main character.

“Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” details a complex doctor-patient relationship between an unnamed main character and Johnny Panic himself. Working as a secretary assistant in an out-patient clinic, the unnamed character is responsible for recording doctors’ analyses. However, upon becoming increasingly infatuated with Johnny Panic, she begins to copy his patient’s dreams into a notebook she refers to as Johnny Panic’s “Bible.” As the character strives to be more and more like Johnny Panic himself, she begins to discover a dark and sinister side to her idol. Yet, instead of deterring her...

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