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Explore the theme of trauma in The Bell Jar and Regeneration

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Introduction

Roxy ï (1974) Explore the theme of trauma in Regeneration and The Bell Jar Trauma is a theme discussed closely in both novels. Physical events cause mental traumas for the characters in both works, and Barker uses World War I as a backdrop for this in Regeneration. Likewise, Plath uses the ‘wars’ of everyday life in 1960’s America, such as social pressure, class, gender, mental health and parental relationships, to show Esther Greenwood’s descent into madness. In a review of Regeneration for The New York Times, Alan Riding explains how Barker felt a close connection to the traumas of WWI as “her grandfather had been a soldier…his war stories seemed all the more real because of a bayonet scar on his back which she was occasionally allowed to touch.”[1] This statement puts into perspective Barker’s decision to use The First World War as the setting for her trilogy and her seamless descriptions and understanding of the traumas that the soldiers experienced at the time, and creates a personal and palpable relationship between Barker and her characters. Second-Lieutenant Billy Prior proves to be a good example of the effects of trauma in the novel. He is one of Barker’s few works of fiction: a mute, a characteristic highly uncommon in officers of his rank at the time, and, equally uncommonly, a man of working-class roots. Prior’s mutism is a mystery to both Rivers and the reader as Rivers has “no file” for his case, and Prior stubbornly insists that he cannot remember what happened. ...read more.

Middle

Likewise, The Bell Jar shows how physical events such as rape create psychological traumas which send Esther spiralling into ?madness?. Much like in Regeneration, where the ?war? could be referred to as a ?rape? of the land, as landscapes were rendered unrecognisable, and soldiers were attacked night and day, Esther?s attempted rape violates her, and it is this episode which triggers her decline into the world of ?insanity?. Throughout The Bell Jar, it is clear that Esther?s phobia of becoming pregnant overrides her ability to communicate successfully with men; childbirth and pregnancy repulse her, so the thought of having sex with a man is disgusting as, in her mind, it must always end in pregnancy. This fear is not subdued by the knowledge that marital rape was still legalised at the time when The Bell Jar was published and so, whether Esther liked it or not, she would have to lose her virginity at some point, and thus endure the trauma of pregnancy. In the book ?American Female Gothic,? Elaine Showalter says that ?pregnant women especially seem like freaks to Esther,?[3] as in the novel she describes Dodo Conway?s ?grotesque protruding stomach,? and the pregnant lady with ?an enormous spider-fat stomach and two ugly spindly legs,? whose labour Esther observes. These descriptions, which portray the horrible truths of pregnancy and childbirth which are generally kept unsaid, show the reader Esther?s repulsed attitude towards them. This shows the reader that Esther feels trapped between the knowledge that sex could end in a dreaded pregnancy and the unbearable pressure that she feels she is under to lose her virginity. ...read more.

Conclusion

The character of Burns is different to Prior and other patients at Craiglockhart as, despite him being male, he responds in a physical way to his trauma which brings to mind women and their experiences in both novels. Burns prefers not to speak about his trauma or the war to Rivers, as Rivers notices when he mentions the sandbags which supply protection against flooding: ?Evidently they brought back no other memories.? This could suggest that Burns has been ?cured?, however we know this not to be true as ?there was no mention of supper,? which shows us that he still doesn?t eat, despite having been discharged from the hospital. Therefore we know that Burns avoids the subject of himself and his trauma in a bid to appear masculine as, in 1917, it was not thought acceptable for men to break down and appear ?weak?. We see this from Barker?s grandfather who refused to talk to her about his battle scar. However in doing this, Burns? physical responses to his trauma remind the reader of Esther?s haemorrhage and Betty?s punctured bladder as their bodies rebel against the traumas inflicted upon them, just as Burns? body rejects food. In conclusion, both Plath and Barker successfully show how physical traumas such as death, war and rape can create insanity, and so dissolving the boundary between sane and insane, as it is a traumatic world. ________________ [1] ?Testifying to the Ravages of Granddad?s War? ? The New York Times. (Alan Riding) [2] Reader review by The Wakefield Library Reader?s Group [3] ?American Female Gothic? (Elaine Showalter) Page: 137 [4] ?A Ritual for Being Born Twice: Sylvia Plath?s The Bell Jar? (Marjory G Perloff) [5] Sparknotes.com ...read more.

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