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Both protagonists struggle to define themselves in a world that denies the development of the female self. Compare how the authors explore and present the destruction of the self in ‘The Bell Jar’ and ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.

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Introduction

Both protagonists struggle to define themselves in a world that denies the development of the female self. Compare how the authors explore and present the destruction of the self in 'The Bell Jar' and 'The Yellow Wallpaper'. To be able to survive in a society that has rules, regulations, double standards, emotional and physical constraints one needs to maintain a sense of individuality. To hold a unique identity is the key to achieve others recognition and to have one's thoughts, character and environment understood. The author, Sylvia Plath and Charlotte Perkins Gilman present the destruction of the self by revealing the unnamed woman's and Esther's deteriorating mental stability. In both these two novels we recognise and witness the devastating effects experienced by women who are slowly driven insane by the gender stereotypic confines of their social world. Both of the authors demonstrate that the women in the novels feel oppressed by the obvious social restrictions placed upon women, and undoubtedly these emotional burdens result in not only their social and intellectual deterioration, but also their mental destruction. Throughout the two novels there are examples of how the authors explore and present the protagonists struggle to define themselves in a world that denies the development of the female self and the destruction of the self. Gilman and Plath are trying to convey to their readers that both these women are desperately trying to free themselves from an isolated, controlled domestic and social life. Both women are trapped in a patriarchal society with rigid expectations of women. The cost of going against social norms is isolation, breakdown and the destruction of the self. The beginnings of the novels immediately reveal to us what kind of society the women lived in. 'The Bell Jar' is set in the 1950's, and through Plath's description of New York, we are given a good reflection of the society at that time. ...read more.

Middle

However she is not able to do so as she has been told that she needs total bed rest and that she is to do nothing, total "rest cure". Hence she emphasises the fact that she needs mental stimulation. Although 'The Yellow Wallpaper' doesn't have as many characters restricting the protagonist the metaphorical element Gilman includes is just as effective as characters. It seems Gilman intended the wallpaper to represent the constraints and demand of the home, marriage, motherhood and society, which leads to a sense of isolation and alienation. It seems as though the woman is unable to express herself as she is confined and restricted by the wallpaper. The bedroom walls and the yellow wallpaper physically restrain the unnamed woman- "the pattern is torturing". Other images that illustrate limits and boundaries are "hedges and walls and gates that lock" highlights the fact that she is trapped. She says - "At night...[the wallpaper] turns to bars!" She is imprisoned by the wallpaper, by society's constant suppression of her personal expression. John doesn't want her time spent on thinking and reasoning when she could be doing other less mentally active things, and at this point Gilman makes the readers identify that lack of intellectual stimulation in reality could do more damage than help. This again highlights the creative process and imagination being denied. The unnamed woman may be confined however Gilman uses contrasted images of the actual room she is confined to. Although everything is rigid, ordered and restrictive like the windows of the nursery are barred and the garden is "full of box-bordered paths" the actual nursery is " a big airy room" that at one time was a "playroom and gymnasium". This reveals to us the apparent freedom one may think they have in society to the actual society it self. It is a contrast between society and stimulation. Plath's woman, Esther is also confined, but her confinement is more emotional than physical. ...read more.

Conclusion

She has not freed herself from anything apart from the institution, but what she really wanted was to be free from societal pressures. It seems as though she has decided to conform to the society rules as she has realised the only way to get on with life without going insane is accepting what society throws at you. The two novels seem to leave an open end for the finality of the stories leaving us to be the judges of whether the protagonists have truly freed themselves from such an oppressive and gender stereotypic society. One may believe that both have liberated themselves from the constraints of their societies however the presentation of it by the two authors, differ. 'The Yellow Wallpaper' may give a clear indication that the unnamed woman has reached her goal, to free herself and the other women from the wallpaper. However we still see her in an unstable state of mind. She has practically gone insane, but has succeeded in what she sought out to do. 'The Bell Jar' on the other hand may seem like it has a positive ending. However it seems that although Esther hasn't actually freed herself, and isn't really herself by the end of the novel, we get a sense that she obviously knows what she is doing as she has "plans". However she realises that society will not accept her true self hence the masking of her identity. Both authors explore and present the destruction of the self in varying ways. Gilman uses a metaphorical and psychological dimension to expose the cruel method of treatment and the struggle of the female self to develop. The novels present the harsh and blunt reality of fixed, socially based gender roles. The period that the women were in, nobody realised how doll-like their lives actually were. Women were like dolls with no identity, made beautiful on the outside and remain empty inside. Esther and the unnamed woman try to fill their hollowness with knowledge and activity, so the can establish a personal, individual and unique identity. By Aparna Manandhar. ...read more.

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