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The Bell Jar and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

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A comparison of the ways Sylvia Plath and Ken Kesey explore societies' notions of sanity and insanity in The Bell Jar and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest discussing the effect of societies' need for conformity upon the individual. In this essay, I plan to discuss the way Plath and Kesey use insanity as a device in their novels One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, and The Bell Jar to rebel against society and it's expectations upon the individual. Both novels have a central character, which is put into a mental institution, to be re-educated to the conformity of their society. The Bell Jar is set in the U.S.A. in 1953. In this period, Yale, the university Buddy Willard attended was a male only college. Even though is it post - world war 2, it was still a time of female repression as in the fact that achievement for a woman was to have a secure family and to be a good mother and wife still outlined success. ...read more.


She is only accepted when she receives a letter from Buddy inviting her to the Yale Senior Prom, which makes all the other girls in the Amazon Hotel believe she is now worth talking to. She doesn't have any real friends and favours the girls who seem to be doing exiting things for example when she chooses to go out 'on the town' with Doreen over going to the arranged party with Betsy.2 It is obvious that socialising in this way is not good for Esther, especially in the way that she takes a bath after returning to the Amazon, " I felt myself growing pure again... I guess I feel about a hot bath the way those religious people feel about holy water. I said to myself: "Doreen is dissolving, Lenny Shepherd is dissolving, Frankie is dissolving, New York is dissolving, they are all dissolving away and none of them matter anymore. ...read more.


This is an important fact, as it is mentioned in the first paragraph and gives the audience an idea of Esther's unhealthy fascination with death. "It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn't help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive all along your nerves."4 This is the first thing that is fed to the audience that clues them that Esther is not of the healthy mindset that society expects. She also feels as though she has to live up to the expectations of others all the time. During her childhood, she was always a high achiever and won many awards. In One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, Chief Bromden sees society as a machine or 'Combine' as he calls it and describes the mental hospital as "a factory for the Combine"5. 1 Plath, Sylvia, The Bell Jar, Faber and Faber Limited, 1966, page 10 2 The Bell Jar, pages 6-7 3 The Bell Jar, page 19 4 The Bell Jar, page 1 5 Kesey, Ken, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Picador, 1973, page 37 ...read more.

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