1st Edition

Reflecting on The Bell Jar

By Pat Macpherson Copyright 1991
    114 Pages
    by Routledge

    In the 1950s, America was in the grip of Cold War paranoia and McCarthyism. Communism and ‘gender maladjustment’ were twin threats to the social ideals of family and security. Yet, previous readings of Plath and her heroine have ignored much of the social context of this era.

    Reflecting on The Bell Jar (first published in 1991) acknowledges this repressive post-war regime of social hygiene. Pat Macpherson’s reading takes into account the fundamental rearrangement of the social contract between citizen and state, built on the newly made connections between national security and mental health. She investigates the trial of the Rosenbergs and its connections with the electrotherapy Plath and her heroine both experience. Macpherson also evaluates the coercive effects of society’s self-imposed inquisitional attitude of surveillance and explores its role in forming female identity. Esther Greenwood, says Macpherson, is the first heroine of our own era of popularized therapeutic culture.

    As challenging and thought provoking as the novel itself, this book provides a new approach to one of feminism’s most difficult heroines. It will be a fascinating read for students of women’s studies, literature, and cultural studies, and for all those intrigued by the writings of Slyvia Plath.

    Introduction: Cold War Paranoia – Theirs and Ours  1. Coming Apart in the Atomic Age  2. The Motherly Breath of the Suburbs  3. ‘You Don’t Blame Me for Hating My Mother, Do You?’  4. ‘I Am Not Now a Homosexual and I Have Never Been a Homosexual.’


    Pat Macpherson taught English at Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia for 13 years and received her MA in Women’s Studies from the University of Kent at Canterbury.