The Bell JarEsther and Patriarchy
“The Bell Jar”, which is written by Sylvia Plath, indicates that patriarchal society has many effects on women. Men have power over women in both direct and indirect ways. In this paper, I would like to concern about Esther and patriarchy. Men use their power directly to oppress Esther. Also they use power indirectly to set up social values and sexual stereotyping which have many effects on Esther.
To begin with men’s power that affects Esther directly, there is the issue of sexual discrimination that is shown obviously in the novel. In the patriarchal society, men are in-control. Also, men have women in their power. Women are oppressed by men. As for Esther, men have many effects on her life. There are many men who oppress her.
Firstly, Marco, who falls in love with his cousin, has almost raped her. He can’t have his wish fulfilled because his cousin is going to be a nun. Esther doesn’t have any idea that a man who falls in love with his cousin will see her as a material. He curses the word “slut” at her. She is very disappointed. The thing he does with her is one of the causes that make her break down.
Secondly, Irwin, whom Esther meets at the library, doesn’t have responsibility. Esther wants to get rid of her virginity. Thus, she decides to seduce Irwin because of his qualities. He is the professor and already has a girlfriend. ” I felt the first man I sleep with must be intelligent, so I would respect him…I also needed somebody quite experienced to make up for my lack of it…Then, to be on the safe side, I wanted somebody I didn’t know and wouldn’t go on knowing…” (P.186). After Esther sleeps with Irwin, she has hemorrhage and must go to see a doctor. Irwin makes her feel disappointed because he isn’t responsible for the bill for doctor’s curing and checkup. Instead of feeling guilty, he asks her to see him again.
Thirdly, Doctor Gordon, who is a psychiatrist, hurts Esther by using shock treatments. What Esther really wants is warmness, but Doctor Gordon doesn’t give it to her. He diagnoses her illness and uses the method of curing without concerning her mind. ” Then something bent down and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the world. Whee-ee-ee-ee-ee, it shrilled,…, and with each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant.” (P.117-118). She feels terrible but she doesn’t dare to tell Doctor Gordon. She has to keep her feeling secret. If she doesn’t do like that, she might have much more shock treatment.
Dr. Gordon: “How do you feel?”
Esther: “All right” But I didn’t. I felt terrible. (P.118)
Esther goes to see Doctor Gordon in order to find someone whom can help her and understand her. She finds a man who tortures her. Instead of making her comfort, he hurts her body. He has the right to cure her by using shock treatment. We can see that Doctor Gordon is a man and a doctor. In Patriarchal society, he has power over Esther who is a woman and a patient. Men are able to do what they wish with Esther.
Furthermore, men’s power which affects Esther indirectly; there are many social values that make women have limits. Men are persons who fix women’s roles and duties in the society. They set up these social values and sexual stereotyping which have many effects on Esther.
First of all, women are not expected to have talent and intelligence more than men. Although women have ability to study, academic world is not a field of women. Esther can’t be highly successful in her career. In the patriarchal society, men have authority. They will determine whether women can live in men’s field. ” After my month on the magazine I’d applied for a summer school course with a famous writer where you sent in the manuscript of a story and he read it and said whether you were good enough to be admitted into his class.” (P.84) Though Esther studies very well, she is rejected to study in the writing course by a professor, who is a man. “I think I should tell you right away,” she said, and I could see bad news in the set of her neck, “you didn’t make that writing course.” (P.93) In addition, when Esther has the shock treatment by Doctor Gordon, she feels guilty. She has internalized values, which are patriarchal values. “I wondered what terrible thing it was that I had done.” (P.118) We can imply that she thinks she is guilty because she has talent and ability, studies well, and wants to be poet or professor. Then, she feels that she deserves to have punishment because she doesn’t suppose to stay beyond women’s areas. The limitations on Esther’s future ambitions because she is a woman.
Moreover, women are expected to be wives and mothers. These are roles and duties which women are supposed to be. Social values that are established by men are prevailed people’s thoughts and attitudes toward women. ” Mrs. Willard said, ?What a man is is an arrow into the future and what a woman is is the place the arrow shoots off,’ ” (P.58) Mrs. Willard accepts completely the roles and duties which are fixed by social values. Unlike Mrs. Willard, Esther wants to combine the characters of housewife and working woman together. She wants to be more than ordinary housewife. ” I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.” (P.68) There is irony in the novel because no matter how Esther is great, she ends up with madness.
Besides, women are expected to be virgin before they get married. In the novel, there are many parts that emphasize on the topic of women’s chastity. For example, Buddy tells her not to sleep with other man until she gets married with him, but he can sleep with other woman. He has double standard. Esther can’t stand with his hypocrisy and wants to leave him. As for Eric, he doesn’t want to marry woman who isn’t virgin. “if he loved anybody he would never go to bed with her. He’d go to a whore if he had to and keep the woman ha loved free of all that dirty business.” (P.64) Incidentally, her mother sends her some article that is about reserving virginity before merry. People thought that women should sleep with her husband only. Social values in the patriarchal world, women will be condemned when they do wrong, but men won’t. ” of course they would try to persuade a girl to have sex and say they would marry her later, but as soon as she gave in, they would lose all respect for her and start saying that if she did that with them she would do that with other men and they would end up by making her life miserable.” In the patriarchal society, men are powerful. All social values come from men. They determine what women can do and what women can’t. They want women to be virgin before marry. Men can fool around but women can’t.
In conclusion, Esther’s thought and feeling are the other side of women’s experiences. There should be gender justice in society. It is unfair for women to have limits while men are free. Women should have equality as same as men. Also women should have more chances to choose careers, which they like. If women have more opportunities, she might not have oppression that drives them depress and crazy.