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Woody Allen is holding a copy of The Bell Jar as he is perusing his girlfriend’s bookshelf: “Sylvia Plath: interesting poetess whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic by the college-girl mentality.” Here, Allen seems to be implying that young female readers of The Bell Jar just don’t get it; they misconstrue the actual content behind the novel, and instead come out seeing the book as romantic. The reality, of course, is in fact the opposite. Yes, many young women relate to The Bell Jar and see themselves in the character of Esther Greenwood. Stories about young women within this particular context (that analyze the abusive and sexist ways society treats them, as well as looks into women with mental illnesses) are rare and, as such, it is hardly surprising that women relate to it. Additionally, as I have discussed here, many women also enjoy the novel because they see the level of skill and intellect that was put into it, oftentimes more so than many critics have. Plath herself said that she had no patience for “cries from the heart that are informed by nothing except a needle or a knife,” and yet more often than not the actual critics seem to forget this. Instead, they say that because the novel was the autobiographical story of someone with a mental illness, it is allowed to be brushed off and doesn’t merit grand literary analysis. Then, when the novel is popular with the very demographic it is focused on, critics then tell the fans they are romanticizing a tragic story because they relate to it, and then label the novel itself as inferior because of the way it resonates with young women, a group of people that society loves to mock and ridicule. The reality, of course, is simply that in The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath is saying things that are true. She is telling an honest story about her experiences being a woman with a mental illness, and also just a woman in general. And her story isn’t pleasant, or sweet, or any of the things young girls are “supposed” to believe. It’s incredibly unflattering to men at large, as it calls out the multitude of sexist and truly horrible things they do to women on a regular basis. The fact that the novel is autobiographical just makes it that much worse in the eyes of men: she’s not even fabricating these incidents, because they are essentially her real life.

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