Chapter

Gender and Society in The Bell Jar

Luke Ferretter

in Sylvia Plath's Fiction

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print July 2010 | ISBN: 9780748625093
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748671694 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3366/edinburgh/9780748625093.003.0005
Gender and Society in The Bell Jar

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This chapter places The Bell Jar in the cultural context of the discourses on gender within which Plath lived and wrote. Contemporary discourses on sex, medicine, childbirth, psychiatry, beauty, marriage and femininity are all discussed in detail. Contemporary marriage manuals, women's self-help books, women's magazines and other texts on gender are examined, particularly those that Plath herself encountered. Feminist critiques of the institutions of obstetrics and gynaecology and of psychiatry, particularly of the practice of ECT, are drawn on in explaining Plath's portrayal of these institutions in the novel. The chapter argues that The Bell Jar reflects the complex and conflicting contemporary discourses on gender within which Plath lived and wrote.

Keywords: The Bell Jar; gender discourse; sex; obstetrics-gynaecology; psychiatry; ECT; beauty; marriage; femininity; feminist

Chapter.  16777 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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