The Bell Jar is American writer and poet Sylvia Plath’s only novel, which was originally published under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas” in 1963. The novel is semi-autobiographical with the names of places and people changed. The book is often regarded as a roman à clef, with the protagonist’s descent into mental illness paralleling Plath’s own experiences with what may have been clinical depression. Plath committed suicide a month after its first UK publication. The novel was published under Plath’s name for the first time in 1967 and was not published in the United States until 1971, pursuant to the wishes of Plath’s mother and her husband Ted Hughes.
The Bell Jar addresses the question of socially acceptable identity. It examines Esther Greenwood, a young woman from the suburbs of Boston’s, “quest to forge her own identity, to be herself rather than what others expect her to be”. Esther is expected to become a housewife, and a self-sufficient woman, without the options to achieve independence. Esther feels she is a prisoner to domestic duties and she fears the loss of her inner self. The Bell Jar sets out to highlight the problems with oppressive patriarchal society in mid-20th Century America. The men in Esther’s life are all oppressive, whether it is in a physical manner or an emotional one.
“The Swimmer” a short story by American author John Cheever, was originally published in The New Yorker on July 18, 1964, and then in the 1964 short story collection, The Brigadier and the Golf Widow. Originally conceived as a novel and pared down from over 150 pages of notes, it is probably Cheever’s most famous and frequently anthologized story. At one point Cheever wanted to parallel the tale of Narcissus, a character in Greek mythology who died while staring at his own reflection in a pool of water, which Cheever dismissed as too restrictive. As published, the story is highly praised for its blend of realism and surrealism, the thematic exploration of suburban America, especially the relationship between wealth and happiness, as well as his use of myth and symbolism.
In 1968, “The Swimmer” was adapted into a film with the same name, starring Burt Lancaster.
The story begins with Neddy Merrill and his wife lounging at a friend’s pool on a mid-summer’s day. On a whim, Neddy decides to get home by swimming across all the pools in the county, and starts off enthusiastically and full of youthful energy. In the early stops on his journey, he is enthusiastically greeted by friends, who welcome him with drinks. It is readily apparent that he is well-regarded and from an upper-class social standing.
Midway through his journey, things gradually take on a darker and ultimately surreal tone. Despite everything taking place over just one afternoon, it becomes unclear how much time has passed. At the beginning of the story, it was clearly mid-summer, but by the end all natural signs point to the season being autumn. Different people Neddy encounters mention misfortune and money troubles he doesn’t remember, and he is outright unwelcome at several houses which should’ve certainly been beneath him. His earlier, youthful energy leaves him, and it becomes increasingly painful and difficult for him to swim on. Finally, he staggers back home, only to find his house decrepit, empty, and abandoned.
L’Age d’or, The Golden Age (1930) is a French surrealist comedy directed by Luis Buñuel about the insanities of modern life, the hypocrisy of the sexual mores of bourgeois society and the value system of the Roman Catholic Church. The screenplay is by Salvador Dalí and Buñuel. It was one of the first sound films made in France.
In a series of thematically-linked vignettes, a couple’s attempts at a fulfilling and consummated romantic relationship are continually thwarted by the bourgeois values and sexual mores of Family, Church, and Society. In the course of seeking sexual release and satisfaction, the woman sublimates her sexual passion by fellating the toe of a religious statue.
The final vignette is an allusion to the Marquis de Sade’s novel 120 Days of Sodom; the intertitle reads: 120 Days of Depraved Acts, about an orgy in a castle, wherein the surviving orgiasts are ready to emerge to the light of mainstream society. From the castle door emerges the bearded and berobed Duc de Blangis (a character from de Sade’s novel) who greatly resembles Jesus, the Christ, who comforts a young woman who has run out from the castle, before he takes her back inside. Afterwards, a woman’s scream is heard, and only the Duc re-emerges; and he is beardless. The concluding image is a crucifix festooned with the scalps of women; to the accompaniment of jovial music, the scalps sway in the wind.