• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

How do the authors of 'The Bell Jar' and 'Surfacing' depict madness?

Extracts from this document...


How do the authors of "The Bell Jar" and "Surfacing" depict madness? In Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar' and Margaret Atwood's 'Surfacing', the concept of madness is an essential component for the exploration of the novels main characters. However, the two protagonists are shown to be affected, and react, in very different ways, making a considerable difference to the ways these two characters are dealt with. On the one hand there is Plath's Esther, who is shown to be a source of interest to the public, as shown by the articles Joan shows her. Yet the unnamed narrator of 'Surfacing' feels alienated by her friends, who don't understand her at all, and she is left alone to deal with her state of mind. The two novels go very far in their exploration of mental instability, yet the extent of both characters illnesses is debatable; is Esther really ill, or does she feel she needs to suffer in order to gain recognition? In addition to this, the character in Surfacing loses grip on her sanity only momentarily, so how far can it be described as madness? It could just as easily be interpreted as an exploration of herself, a reaction to either her father's death, or the return to her childhood home. The most integral part of both novels is how both protagonists see themselves, their lack of responsibility for themselves, as well as their interpretation of other characters. The notion of superiority and gods plays a significant part in both novels, for as Atwood depicts her character as creating ...read more.


had earlier taken a packet of the Doctors matches, and decided that if she asked for them back, she would "say I'd thought they were made of candy and had eaten them." This shows how Esther views herself as above her own standards; the rules she imposes on others don't apply to her, and mirrors how she disassociates herself from everyone else. Her entire concept of living in a bell jar is one of the focal points of the novel, and is wholly linked with her illness, for she uses the metaphor of existence in a bell jar to illustrate her state of mind, while at the same time providing a clear message of how she feels separated from society. At the other end of the spectrum, we have Surfacing's unnamed protagonist, who from the beginning portrays her feelings of detachment from her peers- "either the three of them are in the wrong place, or I am." Although she doesn't hold her peers in particularly high regard, she does not see them as her equals, as shown by her referring to David as "an imposter, a pastiche, layers of political handbills" with distain, viewing him as indecisive and fake. Not only this but Anna's obsession with make-up, and her fear of being seen without it is a stark contrast to the narrators reversal to her basic form. The 'madness' of both characters is most simply depicted through their feelings of confinement, for the two of them both seem to be separated from the social order of their group. ...read more.


Therefore it could be argued that the narrator wasn't in fact mad, but was simply reacting to the stress she felt from the rest of the group, coupled with the discovery of her father's body. Another factor to this is the reliability of the narrators, for Esther is precise in her narrative; she is able to recollect her entire drama coherently, integrating passages of past experiences fluently. The memories she brings up are relevant, and are all remembered in the same tone, whereas the protagonist in 'Surfacing' For both novels, madness is a central theme which defines both the direction and tone of the novels. In Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar', madness is illustrated most strongly through Esther's perception of herself- she seems to create an idea of what she is so easily, yet simultaneously struggling with choosing a future for herself. The simple fact that Esther is a young woman with very little life experience means that the novel develops into an alternate coming of age story, which simply heightens the expectation that it is likely to contain angst and personal complications. In contrast to this, 'Surfacing' is introduced as a search for a missing father; the initial focus is not on the protagonists state of mind, more the relationship between her and Joe, and her memories of home. Therefore the issue of madness is conveyed as more deviant than it is depicted in Esther's situation. However, whereas 'Surfacing' provides a more substantial meaning for the mental deterioration of its main character in her father's death, in 'The Bell Jar' there seems little reason for Esther's depression. 2583 words ?? ?? ?? ?? Alexandra Gaunt English Literature Coursework ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Other Criticism & Comparison section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Other Criticism & Comparison essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    The English Patient

    5 star(s)

    Never turn your back on Europe. The deal makers. The contract makers. The map drawers. Never trust Europeans, he said. Never shake hands with them (...) What have I been doing these last few years? Cutting away, defusing, limbs of evil. For what? For this to happen?" (Ondaatje, M., 1994: 302-3)

  2. Compare and contrast how Atwood and Orwell use language in their regimes as a ...

    It was like using a language I'd once known but had nearly forgotten'. Atwood signals that education is absent by describing the removal of educational buildings and their new functions under the regime.

  1. To what extent is society to blame for the mental decline of Nicole Dive ...

    Nicole and Esther mutually place men on a pedestal not only due to their reliance on them but also the ideals society forces upon them in regards to male superiority; until they realise that not only can Dick and Buddy not live up to these expectations, but also that they are unrealistic for the society that they live in.

  2. How is Madness presented through the protagonist in The Yellow Wallpaper compared to The ...

    The protagonist of ?The Bell Jar? we first see as an educated and independent woman, and we slowly see her deteriorate throughout the book; we understand that Esther is educated and independent as she has been offered an all expenses paid internship at a fashion magazine.

  1. Control, submission and rebellion in the novels The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood, Memoirs ...

    The four texts show a wide range of responses regarding the rebellion of the main characters. In the case of The Hunger Games, rebellion seems to be inevitable as it is the only way the people of the districts could survive.

  2. Explore the theme of trauma in The Bell Jar and Regeneration

    It also implies that Prior?s silence can be linked to episodes of his past which he would like to forget or be forgotten; if he doesn?t talk about it, then he can pretend that it didn?t happen, or, quite literally, keep them ?hushed up.? This point shows how Prior?s trauma is silencing him.

  1. Compare and contrast the ways in which Shakespeare, Plath, and Winterson present characters on ...

    The setting is one of uncertainty in that it portrays the loss of a monarch, and the appearance of a ghost; these features would have rendered the audience cautious and uneasy because of how important the monarch was to society at that time.

  2. Compare the ways in which Plath and Hughes write about relationships. You must include ...

    Plath connects the last stanza back to the title by describing the baby?s crying in the ?morning? as the ?notes? that make up a ?song?, as even in the previous stanza Plath mentions it?s getting brighter outside by the light coming through ?...The window square? suggesting its morning, and possibly a new beginning for Plath and her baby.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work