Breaking the Bell Jar: Teaching Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Feminist Literary Criticism to Upper Secondary School Students

University essay from Lunds universitet/Engelska

Abstract: This paper studies how Sylva Plath’s The Bell Jar can be read from a feminist perspective and, in turn, what some possible benefits and potential risks of teaching the novel and feminist literary criticism to upper secondary school students of English in Sweden are. This paper also discusses how the novel can be a means to discuss the fundamental values of upper secondary school, in terms of equality, but also the topic of mental health. To do this, the novel has been analysed through close reading, supported by the theoretical framework of feminist criticism. Combined with previous research, the analysis was then used to discuss the benefits of teaching feminist criticism and The Bell Jar. The analysis shows that The Bell Jar offers many points of discussion in terms of feminist literary criticism, particularly through its depictions of how patriarchal structures and gender roles are reinforced and their detrimental effects on young women. Thus, the novel allows for many discussions about feminism and women's conditions. By discussing this novel, the students can be encouraged to reflect on their own experiences and opinions about the topics discussed in the novel. In turn, teaching the novel through feminist criticism can influence students' worldview and critical thinking and possibly affect their empathy towards other people. Additionally, the novel offers a great source of identification for young women, who can find empowerment in reading and discussing the novel. Lastly, the novel allows teachers to discuss mental health issues in the classroom and possibly support students struggling with their mental health.

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