How do the authors of The Bloody Chamber and The Bell Jar subvert traditional gender roles?

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Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar both feature female characters that challenge the assumption that women need men and that the purpose of sex is to have babies.

The short story that Angela Carter's book is named after, "The Bloody Chamber," features a woman...

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who finds pleasure in sex while losing her virginity, despite the traditional narrative that for women sex is never enjoyable the first time. She also finds pornography compelling, and while she is surprised and scared by the Marquis's collection of the bodies of his ex-wives, she is also fascinated by it. In the end, the narrator's mother saves her, and they live together happily without husbands. The story "In the Company of Wolves" is loosely based on the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood," and it features a woman who is sexually attracted to the wolf. Instead of being intimidated by his threats, she undresses and ultimately has sex with him. These women do not exist as supporting characters to serve men but have interests and desires of their own.

In The Bell Jar, Esther approaches losing her virginity with curiosity and as something she wants to try. Her motivation is not love, nor is it the idea of a future with Irwin; it is something she wants to do for herself, and it isn't a transformative experience where she becomes impure, despite the attitudes of that era toward sex. Esther's lack of motivation toward finding a husband demonstrates an alternative way of approaching identity that is in direct opposition to the patriarchal narrative of the 1950s.

For more information about The Bloody Chamber and The Bell Jar, please check out the eNotes study guides linked below.

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