The Bell Jar presents a thriving period in American history with regards to female gender identity and consumer identity, equally as it implies how the politics of containment during the Eisenhower years lead to an ideology of repression and thus impinged on women’s bodies and health. In my thesis I argue how this threefold narration is found through the main protagonist in The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood.
I pursue my inquiry in the context of feminist theories and criticisms. In particular, I address Michel Foucault’s theory on self-policing through the imaginary construction of the Panopticon, a “prison” in which the prisoner will act in certain ways, as a result of not knowing if his jailer can see him or not. In my study I juxtapose two forms of Panopticism. My thesis asserts that Esther Greenwood’s female identity parallels the theoretical approach of the disciplinary power by performing self-policing on two levels: First, as a result of the witch-hunt for communists, prompted and visualised through the image of McCarthyism and the execution of the Rosenbergs, which in turn lead to a society of paranoia; secondly, through Esther’s relationship to men, where navigating the male gaze and accomplishing the act of seduction, becomes the ultimate test of Esther’s femininity as well as sexuality, and thus leads to her constantly observe herself. In short, my thesis examines in which ways Esther’s psychological health, femininity and sexuality is an outcome of the containment ideology.