The Significance of Maternal Relationships in Sylvia Plath's Novel "The Bell Jar"

Seminar Paper, 2004

11 Pages, Grade: A

Abstract or Introduction

“It’s quite amazing how I’ve gone around for most of my life as in the
rarefied atmosphere under a bell jar.” (Plath, Sylvia: The Bell Jar. New York. Harper Collins Publishers 1996, p. 250) Although uttered by Sylvia Plath, this statement fully applies for the protagonist Esther Greenwood
in Plath’s novel The Bell Jar. It exemplifies her feeling of being imprisoned in a world and society she can neither accept nor reject and further reveals the identification of author and protagonist. Both Plath and Esther suffer from living under this sort of glass bell jar which makes it hard for them to breathe and to break free from the regulations of contemporary society. The author Sylvia Plath herself has experienced most of the events in the novel, including psychological disease, depression and suicide attempts. Moreover, most of the characters in The Bell Jar are based on people Plath knew and loved, although she often draws caricatures or uses the device of irony when describing them. Plath’s intention was “to show how isolated a person feels when he is suffering a breakdown” (p.262) but we never completely come to know why this breakdown occurs, which almost leads to her destruction and drives her into madness and the asylum. What we do know, however, is that Esther doubts the traditional way of a woman’s life in the 1950s which means marrying a respectful man, having children and being an obedient housewife. She can hardly decide which way of life to choose and experiences a strong inner conflict between her wish of leading the life of a poet and that of a loving wife and mother. This conflict leads to a fracture in Esther’s inner
self, to diminished self-assurance and false made-up selves. Esther’s mother, although seemingly playing a passive role in the novel, has a significant influence on her daughter’s way of thinking, on her doubt of social values and to a certain extent even on her psychological disease which derives
from her inner disorder. In the following, I will try to analyze the importance and influence of Esther’s relationship to her mother Mrs. Greenwood in the course of the story. In doing so, I will also examine the meaning of maternal bonds in reference to a couple of further female relationships in the novel. Moreover, I will dwell on Esther’s doubt and partial rejection of social and traditional values of her time, most
of which are embodied by her mother. [...]


The Significance of Maternal Relationships in Sylvia Plath's Novel "The Bell Jar"
San Diego State University
Modern American Literature and Culture
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Maternal, Relationships, Sylvia, Plath, Novel, Bell, Modern, American, Literature, Culture, Glasglocke, Mutter-Kind-Beziehung, Mutterschaft, mütterlich, amerikanische Literaturwissenschaft
Quote paper
Julia Deitermann (Author), 2004, The Significance of Maternal Relationships in Sylvia Plath's Novel "The Bell Jar", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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