Compare and contrast the ways in which Shakespeare, Plath, and Winterson present characters on the edge of psychological collapse in Hamlet, The Bell Jar and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.
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Compare and contrast the ways in which Shakespeare, Plath, and Winterson present characters on the edge of psychological collapse. Hamlet, The Bell Jar and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit all present characters on the edge of psychological collapse. All three texts share the inclusion of female characters on the edge of sanity; the comparable nature of these characters and these texts is possible, owing to their shared themes: which include challenging familial relationships, the struggle for identity and an attempt to retain this identity. However, despite these similarities in the texts, there are several contrasts between them, which offer an opportunity to explore their very individual depictions of psychological collapse. The Bell Jar by Plath is set against the backdrop of the Red Scare in the USA; the novel opens with Esther's overall fascination with death, which prevails throughout the novel, specifically looking at electrocution: 'it was a queer sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenberg's, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.' Esther's fascination with both the Rosenberg's and electrocution situates her outside of American society because of her obsession. Plath deals with the electro-shock therapy treatment that Esther receives for her mental condition(s) in the latter chapters of the novel; Esther describes the courses of treatment as though they are punishments. The electrocution is punishment, especially to Esther because of her fascination with the electrocution of the Rosenberg's'. Therefore, she associates herself with them [the Rosenberg's], and the effects of the electrocution on her are likened to death: 'Then something bent down and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the world [...] 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.
Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes, And dupp'd the chamber-door; Let in the maid, that out a maid Never departed more. (IV.v) Yet in madness, Ophelia reveals that she is capable of thought and action 'I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.' The violets symbolise faithfulness, and perhaps they are dead because Ophelia feels that the men in her life have betrayed and abandoned her. Ophelia's death is a result of her dependence on others, and the inevitability of her expected role in Early Modern Society. Esther has a compulsion to reject the mentors and mother figures in her life: "all the old ladies I ever knew wanted to teach me something, but I suddenly think that they have nothing to teach" and this can be perceived as a desire for independence - something that Ophelia is unable to achieve. Esther feels as though she does not have to rely on anyone, however, upon moving away from home she realises that dependence upon others, as opposed to her own abilities is essential in obtaining what she wants - similarly, to how she is dependent upon her ability to read and write: 'I can't read... I peered at the writing but I couldn't read it.' This dependency is what makes her who she is and without it, she loses all sense of life. Education as a whole for Esther is beyond importance and the effects of just how dependent she is upon it are presented through her reactions at the loss of her scholarship: 'All through June the writing course had stretched before me like a bright, safe bridge over the dull gulf of summer.'
The alien image that she envisages is a theme continually seen throughout the novel in that she does not recognise herself; this implies that Esther is mentally disturbed because she fails to see what she really is - thus indicating she is on the edge of sanity - nearing psychological collapse. Unlike Ophelia and Esther, Jeanette's role in life was dictated to her from an early age - 'a missionary child' and therefore her self-perception is limited due to the indoctrination of the church. The strong ideas advocated by her mother initially form Jeanette's own ideology, and thus become the way she perceives herself: 'I had been brought in to join her in a tag match against the Rest of the World.' Here, Winterson is suggesting that Jeanette is only there for her mother's purpose, and (initially) has no autonomy of her own. In some ways, Jeanette and Ophelia are similar owing to the cease of relationships between key individuals, for example Hamlet and Jeanette's Mother. Both Shakespeare and Winterson show a difference in character after a change in their life. The change for Ophelia inextricably leads to her death, however, for Jeanette; the change allows her to think for herself. The novel is based around Jeanette finding her identity and thus developing her self-perception. Each text illustrates female characters on the edge of psychological collapse; Plath, however, takes this further and presents Esther's actual psychological collapse. . The ending of Oranges are not the only Fruit does not display similarities to that of Hamlet and The Bell Jar in that a resolution (of some sort) is met. Indeed, the death of Ophelia indefinitely indicates her psychological collapse, and Esther is somewhat in the midst of it. The authors of all three texts do, wholly, offer a firm understanding of each of the female characters. ?? ?? ?? ?? Liam Fuller
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