How to Read Literature Like a Professor

Dealt the Wrong Hand: 1950s Rape Culture in The Bell Jar 11th Grade

Apocryphally labeled a novel confined to the voracious appetite of mental illness, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath truly explores the societal ills in the role of young women in the 1950s. Despite the inevitable and universal recognition of internal strife, The Bell Jar’s main character, Esther Greenwood, is also faced with peremptory, pivotal physical violence. A young, bright woman in the 1950s, Esther is distressed when encountering the possibility of being raped. The near-rape scene, while violent, poses several devices in Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel; moreover, it functions to represent a deeper issue rather than simply showcase the specific violence of Esther’s plight. Plath carefully engineered the scene’s details, diction, and narration to reveal thematic relevance and societal issues through character violence.

In the first part of The Bell Jar, Esther’s character is portrayed indirectly through her narration as mildly cynical and dreary, yet observant. Perpetuating the character’s development, Esther is apprehensive before meeting a boy whom her friend, Doreen, knows; this boy will accompany her as his date for dancing, drinking, and night behavior. However, the night goes astray and blunders into discomfort,...

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