Social Asphyxiation-Belljar Essay, Research Paper
Women belong in the kitchen , a colloquial phrase used in many cultures to paste the role of women right smack in their faces. What brought about such a confining and discriminatory conception of women s lives? It may date back to the earliest days of mankind when women gathered berries for supper and cared for the children while the physically powerful men hunted game and brought home the kill. Was the hearth women s place to begin with because they were naturally unfit for the harsh conditions of hunting and manly activities? Were they perceived as perfectly suited for sitting around, caring for children and churning butter? Perhaps, but what was it specifically about the 1950 s that encouraged this one-tracked reality? In the post world war two era, soldiers returned home from battle and needed jobs. Women were encouraged to leave the workplace and once again become housewives who cared only for the welfare of their families. The nation wanted a return to a non-progressive normalcy. In Sylvia Plath s novel The Bell Jar, the main character Esther gets a glimpse of this stilted existence and feels cornered. The social and economic conditions that existed in the 1950 s coupled with centuries of sexism created the context for Esther s breakdown. Mental instability and a traumatic sexual incident pushed her over the brink and led to her demise.
The role that Esther set forth for herself, as she moved through her education and into college, was somewhat undefined. She lived in a mercurial reality, swayed in any which way by the forces surrounding her. Because propaganda in the 1950 s was aimed so strongly at women s place in suburbia as a housewife, a subtle pressure to conform began to mount within Esther. She acknowledged the pressure and confronted it in a bitter and unyielding tone. In this passage she contemplated marrying a man who she feels somewhat close to, but completely diminishes any such possibility.
I tried to imagine what it would be like if Constantine were my husband.
It would mean getting up at seven and cooking him eggs and bacon and
Toast and coffee and dawdling about in my nightgown and curlers after
He d left for work to wash up the dirty plates and make the bed, and then
When he came home after a lively, fascinating day he d expect a big dinner,
And I d spend the evening washing up even more dirty plates till I fell into
Bed, utterly exhausted.
This seemed a dreary and wasted life (Pg. 68)
Not for a single moment does she ever ponder what a joy they might have on their honeymoon or what an intimate love they might share. She has such a bleak outlook on this molded life that she seems numb and desensitized. But is it her fault? Society has imprinted in her mind that she must be this compliant, loving homemaker that she so ironically describes. But what if that s not what one wants? Esther wanted freedom, no tied down relationships, and a career in journalism that actually had some meaning to it. Society hated Esther. In the repressive, cold war civilization that existed in the 1950 s Esther s choices made her feel like an outcast, doomed to the sour life of an old maid with some high paying job in a man s role. Because of her yearning she was seen with cold, merciless eyes, which slowly began to scar her.
Though society played an immense role in creating this conflict for Esther, she had some mental problems herself. Whether it was a chemical imbalance or a psychological problem, she seemed to react in a depressed and strange way to the pressures exerted upon her. She hints that she has problems of her own and seems unable to handle the everyday pressures that similar intelligent and glamorous girls manage. In the following passage she is supposed to have a portrait taken of her for a magazine. She reacts in a highly vulnerable and depressed manner. Perhaps, when she is told to smile, she sensed the superficiality and pretentiousness that this life she aimlessly walks through holds.
I didn t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke
To me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and
The sobs would fly out of my throat and I d cry for a week. I could feel
The tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady
And too full. (Pg. 82)
She is unaware of what it is that makes her feel so sad. Is she cognizant of the feminine mystique , which hundreds of women like her were experiencing in a similar. A powerful experience will provoke this very source of anxiety and finally push her over the brink.
On a dreary night, following the dreary final week of her month in training at the women s magazine, a friend persuades her to go out to a gala event at a country club. Esther knows that this will involve another blind date. She has had many on this trip, most of them turning quite grim, but she decides to go anyway. The man she meets, Marco, is condescending and contemptuous. Before Esther has time to breathe he whisks her away to the dance floor maneuvering her as if she was his rag doll. Esther had not run into this type of aggressively supercilious man before and she is more than overwhelmed. Marco takes her onto the golf course outside of the country club and attempts to rape her. Marco revels in his brutality, ridiculing Esther in the very moment he sadistically assaults her.
Marco set his teeth to the strap of my shoulder and tore my sheath to the waist. I saw the glimmer of bare skin, like a pale veil separating two bloody-minded adversaries. Slut! The words hissed in my ear. Slut! (Pg.89)
Esther continues to fight while he tries to violate her and finally breaks free. Yet it is too late; the damage is done. Marco s cruelty pushes her over the edge. She runs away and hitches a ride back to Manhattan. When she reaches her hotel she takes all of the clothes that represent her weak attachment to this lavish lifestyle and tosses them over her high rise balcony, to the night wind, and flutteringly, liked a loved one s ashes, the gray scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly, where I would never know, in the dark heart of New York. (Pg. 91) These pieces of clothing are her fragile connection to the life she has been living and as she flings them off into oblivion and so goes her sanity. It seemed inevitable, as if there was no other way for a high strung girl like her. When she renounces the elite existence that she had been working so hard to create, she loses any sight of a meaningful life.
Esther was a victim of a time and place that did not suit her. She spent her time in a role that she hoped would lead to the pinnacle of existence. Yet she was never satisfied. Esther viewed the world in such an idiosyncratic way that it was too hard for her to ever pretend to be enjoying herself. The pressures that the culture of the 1950 s exerted upon her were so suffocating that she could not manage everyday life. She did have psychological problems of her own, but they were amplified by the stifling and repressive society that existed. In the more progressive and liberal society that we live in today, Esther would have adapted easily and would have been considered an amazing and talented person.