In ‘The Bell Jar’ The Protagonist Esther Greenwood

Remarks that ‘the more hopeless you were, the further away they hid you’. One could suggest that this quotation could be applicable to the treatment of women, not exclusively in 1950s America, which provides the backdrop of the text, but throughout history, brought about by established and ignorant patriarchal systems. However, the suppression of such women by society and its expectations are recognised to have caused significant harm and in turn, pressured female minds to a state of stress. These ideas are also explored by fellow female laureate Charlotte Perkins Gilman in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ collection.

In her work, Perkins Gilman, alike to Plath and ‘The Bell Jar’, explores the ideas and themes surrounding gender.

The texts ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, ‘An Extinct Angel’ and ‘Turned’ all focus around either female protagonists or personas and their reactions and coping with the patriarchal systems within they each find themselves. Both Plath and Perkins Gilman present the endeavours of mentally-troubled women through the use of first-person narrators, however, the structural differences between the work of each presents further complexities to each text.

The short-story form applied by Perkins Gilman results in a less-extensive examination into female minds under stress. Despite this, the way in which the author shapes meanings within the structure of her work proves to be just as effective as that of Plath’s.

The protagonist of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ remarks that she has been ‘…absolutely forbidden to ‘work’ until (she is) well again…’. This provides an example of Perkins Gilman writing semi-autobiographically.

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In the quotation, the treatment of ‘rest cure’ is described, an extremely popular treatment for ‘hysterical’ women in the late 19th century. Perkins Gilman herself was prescribed with this. Plath too wrote ‘The Bell-Jar’ in the form of a roman ? clef, a text describing real-life behind a fa?ade of fiction. Both of the authors penned their work while their own minds were under stress, and it could be said that their work could be seen as a form escapism from the entrapment of their own suppressive situations. The fact each of the texts either result in the glorification or empowerment of women or a singular female, the ‘creeping’ of the persona.

‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, the bolting of Gerta and Mrs Marroner in ‘Turned’, the domestication of women becoming ‘extinct’ in ‘The Extinct Angel’ and the improvement in Esther following her work with Dr Nolan of ‘The Bell Jar’, could be said to demonstrate this, they are attempting to escape from their own difficulties through the form of literature. Although, the mental-struggles of the authors and their respective protagonists brings into question the reliability of each of the speakers. One may say that this results in the distortion of the line between an authentic presentation of ‘female minds under stress’ and that of fantasy. Both Plath and Perkins Gilman explore female minds under stress as a consequence of the societal expectations that patriarchal systems enforce.

At the time of the writing of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, Perkins Gilman inhabited a social landscape in which it was expected that women were to be submissive, docile and seen almost as a tool in comfort and the nurturing of children. The narrator of the piece could be said to be prone to these 19th century ideals, she has been affected and influenced by them and their suppressive nature, this can be inferred from the language of the narrator of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. An example of this is the use of ‘one’ by the narrator instead simply and conventionally using ‘I’. This can be seen in quotations such as ‘and what can one do?’ and ‘what is one to do?’. It could be said that the use of ‘one’ isn’t as emotive and individual as other personal pronouns, like ‘I’. One may suggest that Perkins Gilman has applied this to reflect the effects on women in their treatment.

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In ‘The Bell Jar’ The Protagonist Esther Greenwood. (2019, Nov 29). Retrieved from

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