The Bell Jar The Bell Jar question


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Racism(?)


The phrases that she used didn't bother me so much as the context in which she used them.
Whenever she wanted to create the imagery of something ugly as which to compare herself to, she typically used a person of color (a chinese man, an indian, etc.)
She even outright says that people from Peru were "ugly as aztects", which doesn't really make any sense, but still makes me feel a disconnect from Sylvia and the protagonist, and that's really disappointing because I started reading the book to understand my depression better and feel like I could relate to someone. Oh well.


Actually, I think "Negro" was a PC term when the book was written, unlike that other n-word. The distinction comes up in the movie "The Butler."

For what it's worth, in Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian, the author teaches The Bell Jar to a group of women prisoners, and it really resonated with one in particular. She was African American.

U 25x33
Swabha Really? Are you going to use the "one black person liked her book, so she is not racist" argument? And in what context is referring to the black perso ...more
Jul 29, 2020 07:17AM

Yes, Plath was probably racist; it would have been hard for her not to be.

Have you seen the Implicit Bias study Harvard does? Even today, white people typically show a preference for other whites & negative associations towards black people. It'd be unlikely that Plath escaped the subtle, unconscious racism that is perpetuated by structural racism.

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit...


When I read it for the first time, I was a little put off by the use of some non-PC terms, but I quickly caught on to the fact that at the time it was correct to speak in this way (even if it makes people uncomfortable now). I still absolutely love The Bell Jar! What I love most is the journey you go on with Esther, but I also enjoy seeing the differences in American culture that existed in the 60's.


Joshua wrote: "I recently re-read The Bell Jar and I noticed a couple questionable moments that I felt were somewhat racist. At one point she says something about her skin being as "Yellow as a chinese man" anoth..." when reading this book just remind yourself that at the time it was ok to think and speak like that but is not acceptable today if you keep doing that i think you should be ok its like that with many of the classics in for example a christmas carol upset me for the same reason.


Until very recently I lived in the Caribbean where saying someone was black or negro was merely a description - used by black people as much as white. I haven't got a racist molecule in my body and racism angers me beyond measure but this fear of saying someone is black is a white thing!


Xdyj (last edited Jan 16, 2015 02:53AM ) Jan 16, 2015 02:07AM   1 vote
The protagonist does have some racial prejudice which is arguably a product of her time, but it doesn't really play any significant role in the book.


deleted member (last edited Oct 04, 2015 06:40PM ) Oct 04, 2015 05:54PM   1 vote
Nonsense. Martin Luther King used the word in the same time period. "when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society..." Is that quote any less true today than it would be if he had said "African-Americans"? I don't think so; it remains true to this very day, October 4, 2015.

If you're going to read literature that was written before you were born, adjust to the culture or you'll never understand upon whose shoulders the great writers of today stand. "Politically correct" is a meaningless term applied to literature of the past. The term refers to whether one today, in one's present, is using language acceptable to the culture at large. PC has nothing to do with understanding of the past. It has to do with offense given in the present.

Furthermore, the term "politically correct" is in and of itself offensive. It implies whether or not one uses terms likely to get one elected to office or not. That is, are you a born again christian who believes that women belong barefoot and pregnant in the home, that no one, regardless of upbringing, quality of education allowed by low tax levels, environment (e.g., do you go to a high school where gang members tell you they will rape you sister if you don't deliver this package to so-and-so), etc. (sorry, I lost my train of thought--this is an incomplete sentence) no one has any excuse for achieving less than anyone else or for needing assistance beyond that required by anyone else in society. PC is NOT PC. Think about it. It's a way of stepping around puddles of animal droppings that you don't want on your shoes so you never get yourself dirty. Start saying what's true, not what's going to make you popular. Sylvia Plath was a genius.

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Sophie Actually, the term "politically correct" was adopted by conservatives to create a backlash against human rights movements. What you call "PC" is simpl ...more
Nov 10, 2016 02:12PM

I think you have to keep in mind the time that this was written. You are using a current lens to view literature from a previous era.


Joshua, you raise a very good point. I noticed some racism in Plath's poetry as well when I read it last year.


Seeing the word "negro" is always jarring for me but consider the time, blah blah blah. I get that. My annoyance came from the character's description and dialogue. "The Negro leapt away with a yelp and rolled his eyes at me. "Oh Miz, oh Miz," he moaned." Come on guys, this reads like an act right out of a minstrel show. I don't think anyone thinks that Plath was an evil person but let's not apologize for her missteps however few they may be.


The Bell Jar is the only work of Plath that I have read save, maybe, a poem once. As a person of color when I would come across these terms I felt a bit uncomfortable but then I reminded myself of the time she was writing about. Unfortunately, those terms and thoughts were probably politically correct or it just didn't matter how you talked about poc. Not to say that is okay but back then, lets be real, not many people cared.


The "Bell Jar" may be racist in the way a Woody Allen movie is that tackles the depth of life through upper middle class elite white people in the 'big apple,' but I don 't remember being bothered by it. Maybe that's the extent to which I've become racist, but I hope not. "The Bell Jar" was written by a poet, though it 's not her best work "Ariel."


YES, surely there were people back then that knep what was racist and what wasn’t. She was not one of them!


I don't think acknowledging race is the same as being racist. I'd have to re-read it to decide for myself about the parts you'd mentioned.


Buddy describes Gladys, the waitress, as "free, white and twenty-one." I think that is the most racist thing in the book The Bell Jar. Can you imagine anyone saying that today? Of course there's no shortage of discrimination based on gender and mental health, either.


When I taught journalism we had an exchange program going on with other schools. We'd get their paper; they'd get ours. One of the schools in Illinois called themselves "The Chinks". BTW, I went to a Catholic school from grade one (no kindergarten) until grade 12, and I heard a lot worse than that, even from the smart kids, and she certainly was a smart kid. You should remember this was a work of fiction. We don't know Plath felt that way at all. I never noticed anything like that in her poetry.


When I was reading The Bell Jar, I of course, was quite appalled by the only black character in the book being a minstrel-esque servant caricature. I chalked it up to Esther being at her worst state mentally and I wasn't sure if these scenes were genuinely happening or were hallucinations or massive exaggerations. It seemed too absurd to be literal. But if this was an accurate representation of Plath's view of Black people, I am disappointed. The use of the word negro though is a product of the time as other commenters have mentioned. The Chinese man comment was again was also jarring, but something I have to a certain extent become desensitized to reading classic literature. As the white brother of a Korean sister it's not stuff I haven't heard in my own life.


deleted member May 09, 2014 07:58AM   -2 votes
Wow. You're quite the sensitive one aren't you?


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