"Seeing Through the Bell Jar:
Through the character of Esther in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, this essay investigates the struggle of middle-class white women coming of age in 1950s America to achieve personalized identities. It argues that the Cold War era led to the creation of an ideology of cultural containment, enforcing prescriptive roles on women within an American suburban, conservative, and conformist setting. Investigated here are methods by which this model of domesticity was promoted. Also, examined here is the fracturing of identity those methods caused in women, who were unable to fully assimilate themselves into this role. Butler’s theory of performativity is employed to assess strategies of female identity formation. Furthermore, it indicates how functionalist approaches arising from popular Freudianism defined gender roles as principally biologically determined and saw differing models of sexuality and female dissatisfaction as illnesses treatable by psychology. In this context, Esther’s search for a self with whom she can identify becomes the novel’s principal quest and is, by drawing on the concept of hyper-realism, explored through the processes of observation, reflection, and image reproduction.