How do gender roles lead to the mental breakdown of the female protagonists in both “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman?

Both writers in Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ and Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ tell problems attributable to the strict gender roles to which they have to conform. suggest that the mental breakdown of women is reflective of the difficulty women experience in a patriarchal society. Both the lives of Esther and the unnamed narrator display implications of an underlying problem rather than a simple mental illness due to the ‘typical’ gender roles they were obliged to live by. In Susan Bordo’s 1993 analytical essay, she explores how mental illnesses are inflicted through the suppressing gender roles and how it was more prominent in certain eras. Both female protagonists in “The Bell Jar” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” demonstrate the negative impacts of imposing traditional gender roles upon women, and demonstrates the struggle of being unable to fit into their classified roles as a typical housewife and mother in The similarities between the lives of both female protagonists further reinforces that these work of literature are not merely accounts of women suffering from mental illnesses but rather society’s unbearable gender constraints and their misogynistic values. Gilman used this short story to expose the anxieties she had concerning the rest-cure; she was driven into madness, thus wrote to protest this treatment for women, addressing Dr. Weir Mitchell. Correspondingly, Plath like Esther commits suicide; the experiences in The Bell Jar are based on real people and events making it a semi-autobiographical story; she wanted to criticize society’s oppression on women. The submissive and fragile nature of the narrator is outlined through her repeated interspersing of her journal entries with rhetorical questions of “[but] what is one to do?” using variations of the same refrain. Gilman hints at the narrator’s sense of confinement and her inability to think for herself. Each time the narrator poses this question, the narrator cannot come up with an answer – secluded in the nursery of a gothic home on rest cure- and cannot formulate her thoughts. Thus, she is forced to ask the same futile questions repeatedly depicting a sense of submissiveness. Social expectations in the 19th century encouraged a kind of pessimistic selflessness that could have resulted in women thinking of themselves as nothing, or as worth less than nothing. Women of that time were controlled by ‘superiors’ like their husbands or fathers forced to lose their identity under repressing social system. These ideals were continued into the 1950s where these expectations shaped the lives of women of this period. However, Esther struggles to fit in, finding herself increasingly depressed and delusional. “I was supposed to be having the time of my life”…

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