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How do the writers Sylvia Plath and Ken Kesey portray the struggle of the individual in The Bell Jar and One flew over the Cuckoos Nest?

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Introduction

How do the writers Sylvia Plath and Ken Kesey portray the struggle of the individual in "The Bell Jar" and "One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest"? In The Bell Jar and Cuckoo's Nest, both the protagonists struggle not only with a deteriorating mental stability and oppression from those surrounding them but also with a lack of a sense of individuality. Kesey and Plath explore these personal struggles through the experiences of alienation and identity paranoia through evocative literary techniques; being overwhelmed and powerless to break free of their inner world of isolation. Esther, in The Bell Jar, is a young, sensitive and intelligent woman who feels oppressed by the apparent social restrictions placed upon women in a pre-feminist, repressive 1950s America, and the pressure she feels regarding her future. She struggles with individuality and is faced with many choices complying with her future, and consequently, the path for the rest of her life. Esther's insecurity and struggle to discover her identity causes her to look to the personalities of the woman that surround her in life, but her inability to adapt to these personalities or the traditional concept of the "feminine ideal" ultimately leads her to a psychological breakdown in life. It is not just the nature of that struggle we are presented with, but Plath's literary techniques which help to portray this "struggle" to the reader, with the use of sibilance and repetition; "The silence depressed me. It wasn't the silence of silence. It was my own silence." Plath's repetition of the word "silence" reinforces the idea that Esther's feelings and emotions are trapped inside her, and suggests that she is unable to break free of her own silence; these emotional burdens result not only in Esther's social and intellectual isolation, but also aid the reader in believing that her mental breakdown is imminent from the beginning. The short, simple, fragmented sentences also show us that Esther has an ability to reflect properly, and it also serves to highlight her own isolation. ...read more.

Middle

Although a modern day female reader of the novel may not be able to fully empathise with this idea of the "submissive female", certain sexist aspects remain nowadays which help the women readers understand the extent of Esther's struggle, whilst the universal theme of repression ensures the male audience are not excluded. To extend the theme of repression, Plath uses the idea of presenting the central character as a pariah and disconnection from oneself, to show the struggle of isolation from society; "(Her hand) retreated and fell limp...as if it had collided with a pane of glass." This reemphasises Esther's feelings of not belonging to society and her struggle to fit in. It once again refers to the image of being trapped in a bell jar away from the world and feeling, and it is this recurrence of the bell jar that gives the novel unity of structure. "It was the sleeve of my own bathroom and my left hand lay pale as a cod at the end of it." She detaches herself from her body and does not associate it with herself, as if she is watching herself as another person and this shows the reader the extremity of her disconnection to herself and enables us to gain a greater understanding of her troubled emotions. Kesey also uses the idea of disconnection from oneself as another technique to reinforce the theme of struggle within the individual, an example of this is when Bromden is hiding in the latrine from the black boys; "I'd take a look at my own self in the mirror and wonder how it was possible that anybody could manage such an enormous thing as being what he was." Bromden is six feet seven inches tall, but confesses that he in fact feels much smaller and weaker than this. He tells McMurphy, "I used to be big, but not no more." ...read more.

Conclusion

. . the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn't descend again?" The bell jar has lifted enough that Esther can behave relatively normally, and although it seems that she hasn't actually freed herself, we get a sense that she obviously knows what she is doing as she has "plans". Her suicidal desires have been abandoned, for the time being, and she begins to connect with other people and the outside world. The use of ellipsis after "someday", suggest to the reader that Esther still feels the bell jar hovering above her, and worries that it will trap her again. The novel lapses into a linear, traditional narrative towards the end, representing sanity as a complete and significant concept, however, whilst she is relieved to be free from her madness, she does not wholly believe that this is a permanent solution from her struggles. It is this sense of ambiguity that leaves the reader to decide their own interpretation of Esther's fate. Both Plath and Kesey portray intense psychological "struggle" of Esther and Bromden effectively in similar ways; both novels create a sense of catharsis at the end of the novel due to the heavy, complex emotions and the distinct, visual imagery and language. I see this catharsis as alleviated in Cuckoo's Nest with Bromden's successful escape; conversely in Bell Jar I feel that this is not quite relieved and that I am almost sharing Esther's constant burdens in the concluding paragraphs. The novel was described by one critic as having "...a special force, a humbling power, because it shows the vulnerability of people of hope and good will", I see this overwhelming vulnerability we are able to share with Esther that helps The Bell Jar stand out as the most effective in conveying the struggle. I feel that Plath's precise literary techniques, along with the obscure symbolism of the bell jar persisting to plague Esther's mind, to the point where she is still no clearer on her uncertain fate, delineates Bell Jar as unforgettable with a lingering ambiguity that has asserted the novel as a literary classic. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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