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In The Bell Jar, what language does Plath employ to represent the medical world and...

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pashti | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted September 1, 2013 at 1:28 AM via web

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In The Bell Jar, what language does Plath employ to represent the medical world and what is the effect of this language?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 1, 2013 at 5:54 AM (Answer #1)

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It is interesting to examine the kind of language that Plath consciously chooses to use when describing the treatment her protagonist, Esther, had for her insanity. What becomes apparent is that the medical world that Esther enters as a patient is described as a primarily negative thing for Esther. This is cemented through the description of her first electroshock therapy, which is communicated using the following words in Chapter 12:

Then something bent down and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the world ... with each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant.

The use of such words as "drubbed" and phrases such as "bones would break" and "fly out of me" suggest the violence with which the medical world treats Esther. She compares herself using a simile to a "split plant" which has had its sap shaken out of it by some massive force. The image she uses conjures up a tree that has been completely destroyed by a lightning bolt. Even in her interactions with the medical world that are not violent, there is a negative tone imparted, such as when she sees a group of patients who are supposedly on the road to recovery. All Esther is able to focus on is the strange "uniformity" that their faces have, suggesting the way that even those who are "healthy" can be trapped by routines and customs in a negative way that can suppress individuality. Esther's experience of the medical world, as it is conveyed in her words, is therefore profoundly negative and violent.

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