Does Plath Present Men As The Biggest Obstacle To Esther's Freedom In The Bell Jar Year 12 A Level English Ocr Essay Essay

2072 words - 9 pages

‘In literature, men are depicted as the biggest obstacles to women’s freedom’ How far do you agree that Plath presents men as the main obstacle to Esther’s freedom as an individual?
In The Bell Jar (1963), Sylvia Plath explores the role that men take in the acute curtailment of Esther’s freedom. The part that men play in this restriction is largely important insofar as the fact that many of the secondary obstacles that taunt and trap Esther find their roots, at least partially, with men. While various obstacles (Esther’s mental health, the internalised misogyny of other women and the expectations and consumerism of the 1950’s) trap her, it is arguable that these may merely be byproducts of men and a permeating patriarchy, ultimately abstracting her freedom. While men as individuals have limited Esther’s freedom, it is important to read the male constructs, not merely as isolated characters but also as a device to compose an image of the general male sphere, which pervades every aspect of her life, subsuming her humanity in the male gaze. Furthermore, the men of the novel are symbolic of different paths that Esther can take, with her direction in life completely mediated by men and her role as a woman decided exclusively by them (for example, the domesticity of her submission to Buddy Willard or the sexual and promiscuous role that Marco represents). Henry Miller’s ‘Tropic of Cancer’ (reissued in 1963) embodies and perpetuates this labelling of women, identifying all women as sex objects and house mules. Although this is a convincing interpretation, it is also plausible that Esther is actually more trapped by the ideals of 1950’s and the ‘straitjacket’ (Sarah Churchwell, An Introduction to the Bell Jar) that contemporary convention places on her, endowing men with the power to confine Esther.
To address the men of the novel as individuals, perhaps the most influential and restrictive man in Esther’s life is Buddy Willard, who, like Angel Clare in Thomas Hardy’s earlier novel Tess of the D’urbervilles, is the embodiment of gendered double standards. He is also symbolic of Esther’s option to choose a life of domesticity as a subservient housewife, much like Plath’s own mother who recalls having to compromise her ‘ambition’ for a ‘peaceful home’ and a life of submissiveness. The limitations that Buddy places on Esther, much like the construct of John in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (1892), are largely evident through his didactic and autocratic tone that he takes towards her. He ‘defines himself almost entirely by what he can find to explain to Esther’ (Linda Wagner-Martin, The Bell Jar: A Novel of the Fifties) and lectures Esther on everything from science to sex, first ‘teaching’ her that a ‘poem is dust’ and going on to teach her ‘everything (she) needed to know’ about skiing, despite having never skied before. This role that Buddy assumes of the omniscient informant, paints him (to Esther at least) as one who says only the...

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