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Confinement in the Bell Jar

            * "Wives and Mothers, secondary citizens in a man's world where your only possible achievement is a vicarious one." Is this the destiny of all women? According to Adlai Stevenson's address at Smith College in 1955, it was the only available destiny (Steiner 80-81). Imagine fifteen years of straight A's, being creative and brilliant, graduating from one of the most prestigious colleges in the United States, and being told the unanimous vocation for women is to be only a wife and mother. In The Bell Jar, first published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, in London in 1963, Sylvia Plath wrote a lightly disguised autobiographical novel that records her personal experiences through her heroine, Esther Greenwood. The predicament of women, especially talented, aspiring and vulnerable young women pitted against the oppressive expectations of others, is explored by Plath in her portrayal of Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar. The "bell jar" is a metaphor for the alienation, isolation and confinement that Esther experiences during her mental breakdown. .
             From the beginning, Plath's first person narration creates intimacy with the disillusioned 19 year-old Esther by introducing her thoughts and feelings of alienation and estrangement in New York City. Clues about Esther's feelings of the restrictions and isolation of an enclosing bell jar are present in the first section of the book. Immediately, she reveals feelings so different from what she is "supposed" to be experiencing in the glamorous and wonderful world of New York: "It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York." She knew "something was wrong," and "all [she] could think about was the Rosenbergs" (Plath 1-2). Esther's obsession with the Rosenbergs is indicative of her not feeling what is expected of her, and not fitting into the culture of the 1950s" world she inhabits.

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