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The Bell Jar - Society issues

            The novel The Bell Jar written by Sylvia Plath is set in the 1950s America when the idea of adolescence was reasonably recent and society seemed a little uncomfortable with the idea of unrestricted individuality. Sylvia Plath explores these issues about individuality against society's expectations through the protagonist of The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood who has an identity crisis, which leads to a mental breakdown. Societal pressure and the hypocritical conventions of society cause confinement to grow within Esther, which is the most obvious manifestation of her mental illness.
             Esther feels a sense of alienation and isolation from society as a young woman living in the 1950s America. Society expects a woman of Esther's age to be cheerful and confident being the top academic student that she is and to keep progressing until she has finished school then settle down and be married to a clean man with two and a half children. Until becoming nineteen years of age, this is exactly what Esther had been doing and this concept was set in her mind, not by choice, but convinced by the conventions of society. This societal pressure suffocates and incarcerates her. "After nineteen years of running after good marks I was letting up, slowing down, dropping clean out of the race." After nineteen years of withstanding the pressure, following the footsteps of societal expectations, she realizes that she is not being her true self and she collapses in search for her true identity. .
             An issue that Plath explores which deeply relates to society's expectations is feminism. Society expects Esther to stay a virgin until she is married but Esther sees the hypocrisy of all this when she finds out that Buddy Willard, the man she was planning on marrying had been having numerous affairs with the local waitress. It's not the fact that he had cheated on her that makes her angry, but the fact that society accepts this kind of behaviour from a man, but not from a woman.

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