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In The Bell Jar, what terms does Esther Greenwood use to describe herself?

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barbvienneau | eNoter

Posted December 7, 2011 at 12:30 PM via web

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In The Bell Jar, what terms does Esther Greenwood use to describe herself?

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

Posted December 24, 2011 at 2:29 AM (Answer #1)

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One of the most important aspects of this novel is the way that it represents a very introspective self-examination of a young woman who reveals herself under the microscope, as it were, in her narrative. As a result, the novel contains many compelling descriptions of Esther. You might like to consider the following example from Chapter Seven:

When I was nineteen, pureness was the great issue. Instead of the world being divided up into Catholics and Protestants or Republicans and Democrats or white men and black men or even men and women, I saw the world divided into people who had slept with somebody and people who hadn’t, and this seemed the only really significant difference between one person and another. I thought a spectacular change would come over me the day I crossed the boundary line.

This quote is significant because it presents Esther as occupying a universe where her sexual opportunities are extremely curtailed. Tradition necessitates that she has no sexual exploits before marriage, as breaking this taboo threatens her future in a somewhat Puritanical society due to the possible dangers of crossing that line. Her goal to deliberately transgress this social norm is met, though with somewhat indifferent results. When she finally manages to succeed in her ambition of losing her virginity, it is a mixed experience, as she fails to experience the sense of liberation that she hopes for.

This quote therefore shows Esther to be a young woman who is at odds with the world of which she is a part and how she desires to break social norms and conventions. This is of course just one quote, so I hope you are able to find and analyse others in this narrative.

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